Topography of semiconductor products

The topography of semiconductor products

What is protected?


The part of a semiconductor product that is protected is its topography, i.e. the design and the layout of the elements composing the product. It is this topography which directly determines the product’s various functions.

However, protection covers only the topography and does “not extend to any concept, process, system, technique or encoded information embodied in the topography other than the topography itself.” (Article 8 of Directive n°87/54).

What are the conditions to be protected?

Basic conditions

Essentially, European Directive n°87/54 (Article 2.2) stipulates that the topography of a semiconductor product is protected if “it satisfies the conditions that it is the result of its creator’s own intellectual effort and is not commonplace in the semiconductor industry.” The topography to be protected therefore must not be “obvious” or “commonplace” for a specialist in the profession.

Topography resulting from the analysis of another topography cannot be protected.

What are the rights granted?

European Directive n°87/54 of 1986 gives a non-exhaustive list of the exclusive rights which are conferred to the inventor of a semiconductor product on its topography.

These rights include:

  • the right to reproduce the protected topography;
  • the right to exploit commercially or to import to this end a semiconductor product which reproduces the protected topography.

Only the inventor of or holder of rights to the topography is in a position to exercise these rights, or to permit a third party to carry out these acts (see below).

How to use a topography created by a third party

The authorisation (licence) has to be in writing and must lay down the ways in which these acts will be carried out (markets concerned, etc.). In certain Member States of the European Union, formal procedures have to be gone through to make such an agreement valid or binding for third parties:

  • Austria, Denmark and Spain: Registration in the register of semiconductors or a statement to the national office of the obligatory industrial property to make any transfer of rights valid.
  • France: The transfer of rights has to be in writing and published to be binding for third parties.
  • Portugal: The transfer of rights has to be in writing and becomes binding for third parties only after having been authorised by the Portuguese Patent Office (INPI).
  • Belgium, Germany, Greece, Finland, Italy and United Kingdom: No particular formal procedures.






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