The layout or plan of an integrated circuit

Circuit layout rights protect the layout plans or designs of electronic components in an integrated circuit, computer chips, or semi-conductors used in personal computers and computer-reliant equipment such as:

  • household items (e.g. digital watches, television sets and washing machines)
  • medical devices (e.g. heart pacemakers)
  • medical equipment (e.g. x-ray machines and MRI machines)
  • anything else with electronic components.

When do circuit layout rights subsist?

Circuit layout rights commence automatically as soon as the plan or design is created. In this respect, this type of intellectual property right is like copyright.

As with copyright, you do not need to register the plan or design.

What are the requirements for circuit layout rights to subsist?

  1. The layout or plan must be either:
    • made by an Australian citizen or corporation, or a citizen or corporation of an eligible country, or
    • commercially exploited in Australia or in an eligible country.
  2. The layout or plan must be original.

An eligible country is one with laws that confer on Australian citizens the same rights in the eligible country in relation to circuit layout rights as Australian laws confer.

Circuit layout rights start as soon as the layout plan or design is made.

Circuit layout rights last:

  • if they are not commercially exploited – 10 years from when the plan or design is created, or
  • if they are commercially exploited within that time – 10 years after the calendar year in which the layout was first commercially exploited (see section 8 of the Circuit Layouts Act 1989 (Cwlth) for a definition of 'commercially exploited'.

There is an international agreement called the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) that is administered by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Countries that are members of WTO have agreed to pass laws in their own countries that will extend to nationals of other WTO countries. Australia is a member of WTO. Australians therefore enjoy the same protection that is given in other countries that are members of WTO.

Just as registration of circuit layouts rights is not required in Australia, registration is not required in countries that are members of WTO.

View a list of member countries of WTO.

As an owner of circuit layout rights, you have the following rights:

  1. to copy your circuit layout plans or designs
  2. to make integrated circuits from your circuit layout plans or designs
  3. to commercially exploit those integrated circuits
  4. to obtain a court order to stop another person unlawfully using (infringing) your circuit layout rights (this kind of order is called an injunction)
  5. to grant a licence to another person (for example, in other parts of Australia, in other industries, or in other countries) to exploit your circuit layout rights, in return for licence fees, royalties, or other payments
  6. to sell your circuit layout rights
  7. to give away your circuit layout rights to someone else in your will.