Tech start-ups seem to be the flavour of the day in most entrepreneur meets but amidst the wide array of software companies there is an oft neglected team of people who work exclusively on building hardware. The silent workers who have it more difficult in terms of securing funding, gaining visibility and pretty much anything.

Within the world of IP there exists a similar level of differentiation. You will find volumes of blog articles (including on our own blog) on software patents, copyrights, trademarks and designs but very little if not anything about protecting the layout of Integrated Circuits.

Under Indian law, the layout of Integrated Circuits can be protected and there exists a Registry in Delhi called the Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout Design Registry (SICLDR) where applications are filed and processed. The Registry functions on a daily basis, but unfortunately no applications have been processed till date.

I have mentioned some of the basic information with regard to what can be protected and the general process below

First up – What can be protected?

The layout of an integrated circuit is what can be protected under the law. That means the layout of the various components and the design of the circuit can be protected. Not the components or their functioning but their placement and the design.

Are there any criteria that have to be fulfilled?

Naturally your design has to meet certain requirements which have been laid down by the law in order to be protected. They are fairly straight forward; at the time of making your application:

Your layout design has to be original.

Your layout design should not have been commercially used (sold, leased, exhibited etc) in India or any convention country. There is an exception to this which allows a period of two years. So within two years of first use, you can apply for registration.

Your layout design has to be inherently distinctive (the design has to have come work on it, to be unique)

Your layout design has to be inherently distinguishable from another registered layout design (your design has to be different from other designs registered with the Registry.

What is the Registration Process?

As with most streams of intellectual property registration, an application has to be filed, in this case with the SICLDR. The application will be examined on the criteria mentioned above. The Registrar may accept the application or refuse it or accept it with modifications. Once it has been accepted, it will be published in the Journal. This journal comes out every month. The application is then open for a period of three months for opposition by third parties. If there is no opposition then the application will be registered.

How long do I have protection for?

Once a layout design is registered, it is protected for a period of ten years from the date of application or the date of first commercial exploitation.

What do I gain by registering my layout design?

As with all streams of intellectual property, with registration you get statutory protection for your IP. That means, your circuit layout design will be protected under the law and more importantly you can stop someone else from using a layout design that has been copied from yours.

In today’s scenario where individuals and businesses value and protect intellectual property, it is important to protect every aspect of your product or service as the case may be. Moreover with IP owners, using defamation in trademark infringement cases, and other unconventional avenues of the law in protecting and defending IP, it is vital equip yourself with every defence that the law permits.

Specifically to Integrated Circuit Layouts, there is very little information, knowledge and awareness on what can be protected and not a lot of people are registering their layout designs, the way, patents, trademarks, copyrights and designs are filed and registered. That in itself may be a sufficient advantage!

If you have any questions or would like to share your views on this, please leave a comment below; I’d be happy to hear from you.

This article has been authored by Navarre Roy, an IP Law practitioner.