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Mask works refer to a certain type of intellectual property used to create three-dimensional images or patterns on layers of materials in semiconductor chips. In the United States, mask works are protected through intellectual property federal law, specifically the Semiconductor Chip Protection Act of 1984 (SCPA). Unlike copyrights, which are not necessarily registered with the United States Copyright Office (USCO), mask works must be federally registered in order to receive protection. 

Key Takeaways

  • Mask works are templates used to create three-dimensional images or patterns in semiconductor chips.
  • In the United States, mask work rights, which are similar to copyrights, are protected through the Semiconductor Chip Production Act of 1984 (SCPA). 
  • For mask works to be protected, they must be registered with the US Copyright Office.

Understanding Mask Work Rights

Mask work intellectual property rights can be divided into two categories: mask works, which are photographic templates used to create images or patterns on semiconductor chips, and the semiconductor chip itself in which the mask works are imprinted. Both components of the semiconductor are protected according to the SCPA. By combining elements of copyrights and patents, this dual protection of expression protects inventors nationwide. It is nonetheless important to note that mask work must be original in order to be protected under the SPCA. Simply put, the mask work must be deemed an independent creation of an author who did not copy it.

While mask work rights and copyrights may share several similarities, there is one key difference between these two types of intellectual property. Copyrights do not need to be registered with the US Copyright Office in order to receive protection. Mask works, on the other hand, must be registered. Registration grants the owner of mask works exclusive rights to make copies of the mask work and import or distribute semiconductor chips based on the mask work.

Once a mask work is registered, it can be identified using the *M symbol or the letter M in a circle. These symbols can help protect mask work from infringement by competitors. However, notice of mask work registration is not a requirement. 

Mask Work Infringement

Those who violate a registered mask work's exclusive rights can be sued in federal district court for infringement. It is also possible to sue for induced infringement, a concept similar to contributory infringement. If the court decides that mask work infringement did in fact take place, it may award remedies such as:

  • Attorney fees
  • Statutory damages
  • Actual damages (plaintiff's lost profit)
  • Temporary injunctive relief
  • Permanent injunctive relief

Bottom Line

No thanks to complex legal and technical language, semiconductor intellectual property rights can be tricky. If you are seeking legal protection for your mask work or are interested in learning more about intellectual property rights, contact one of our top IP attorneys. A smooth resolution of intellectual property issues can be achieved with the right legal support and representation.

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