Circuit layout rights

Circuit layouts are the layout designs or plans of integrated circuits and computer chips used in electronic equipment. They are sometimes referred to as computer chip or semi-conductor chip designs.

A circuit layout is a 2-dimensional representation of the 3-dimensional location of electronic components in an integrated circuit. Due to their complexity and the intellectual effort involved in creating circuit layouts, they can be very valuable. Circuit layouts can be found in most electronic devices, including common items, such as pacemakers and personal computers.

Rights protected in circuit layouts

Circuit layout rights (CLRs) protect the designs of integrated circuits and computer chips, just as copyright law protects original works. Protection can also extend to the finished product.

A circuit layout or an integrated circuit made in accordance with the layout will have been commercially exploited if it is offered for sale or hire, imported for the purpose of sale or hire, or otherwise distributed without the permission of the owner of the rights.

Protecting a circuit layout

Similar to copyright, CLRs automatically protect the interests of the owner without the need to be registered. This form of protection also supplements any patent protection obtained for the circuit itself.

The main criterion for obtaining a CLR is originality. This means that the layout must have involved creative input by the creator. Of course, the layout must not have infringed the rights of another’s existing circuit layout creation.

The owner of an original circuit layout has the exclusive right to:

  • copy the layout in a material form
  • make integrated circuits from the layout
  • exploit it commercially in Australia.

Duration of circuit layout rights

Rights exist for 10 years from when the circuit layout was first created and fixed in a material form, regardless of whether or not it is used commercially.

Provided the circuit layout was commercially exploited within 10 years from the date that the design was first created, then the circuit layout will be protected for a further 10 years from the date commercial exploitation first occurred. That is, the protection period for a circuit layout could be 20 years, but only if it is first commercially exploited at the very end of the first 10 years.

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