Mask Mark Protection

What are Mask Works?

Mask Works are a type of intellectual property created by the Semiconductor Chip Protection Act (SCPA) of 1984.

Statutory Mask Works rights are set forth in Title 17 United States Code §§ 901-914. In general, the SCPA allows for the protection of the combination of a mask and a semiconductor chip.

Some Requirements for and Rights associated with Intellectual Property Protection of Mask Works

  • A mask work must be a series of related images, however fixed or encoded (1) that have or represent the predetermined three dimensional pattern of metallic, insulating, or semiconductor material present or removed from the layers of a semiconductor chip product; and (2) in which series the relation of the images to one another is that each image has the pattern of the surface of one form of the semiconductor chip product.
  • A semiconductor chip product is defined as the final or intermediate form of any product (1) intended to perform electronic circuitry functions and (2) having two or more layers of metallic, insulating, or semiconductor material, deposited or otherwise placed on or etched away or otherwise removed from a piece of semiconductor material in accordance with a predetermined pattern.
  • The Registration of the Mask Work is effective on the date of the Registration or the date the Mask Work is first commercially exploited anywhere in the world by an owner as defined in 17 United States Code § 902.
  • A Registration of the Mask Work is effective for ten years. However, to secure protection of the Mask for the entire 10-year term, the owner must register the work with the Copyright Office within two years of the date on which the Mask work is first commercially exploited or the potential protection will be lost.
  • 17 United States Code § 905 reads, “The owner of a Mask Work provided protection under this chapter has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following: (1) to reproduce the Mask Work by optical, electronic, or any other means; (2) to import or distribute a semiconductor chip product in which the Mask Work is embodied; and (3) to induce or knowingly to cause another person to do any of the acts described in paragraphs (1) and (2).”

Limitations of Owner’s Rights

  • Protection is not available for a Mask Work that is not original or consists of designs that are staple, commonplace, or familiar in the semiconductor industry, or variations of such designs, combined in a way that, considered as a whole, is not original.
  • It is not an infringement of the exclusive rights of the owner of a Mask Work for— (1) a person to reproduce the Mask Work solely for the purpose of teaching, analyzing, or evaluating the concepts or techniques embodied in the Mask Work or the circuitry, logic flow, or organization of components used in the Mask Work; or (2) a person who performs the analysis or evaluation described in paragraph (1) to incorporate the results of such conduct in an original Mask Work which is made to be distributed. 17 United States Code § 906.
  • An innocent purchaser of an infringing semiconductor chip product — (1) shall incur no liability under this chapter with respect to the importation or distribution of units of the infringing semiconductor chip product that occurs before the innocent purchaser has notice of protection with respect to the Mask Work embodied in the semiconductor chip product and (2) shall be liable only for a reasonable royalty on each unit of the infringing semi­conductor chip product that the innocent purchaser imports or distributes after having notice of protection with respect to the Mask Work embodied in the semiconductor chip product. 17 United States Code § 907.

Mask Work Notice

  • The notice shall consist of— “(1) the words “Mask Work”, the symbol *M*, or the symbol Ⓜ (the letter M in a circle); and (2) the name of the owner or owners of the Mask Work or an abbreviation by which the name is recognized or is generally known.” 17 United States Code § 909.

If your company needs assistance with registration of Mask Works, please contact BPL.

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