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Semiconductor Chip Protection Act of 1984

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Citation Edit

Semiconductor Chip Protection Act of 1984 (SCPA), Tit. III of Pub. L. No. 98-620, 98 Stat. 3335, 3347 (Nov. 8, 1984), codified at 17 U.S.C. §§901 et seq.

Overview Edit

The Act extended legal protection to a new form of subject matter — semiconductor chip mask works — in order to address the problem of chip piracy.[1]

The SCPA uses a modified copyright approach to protect the topography of integrated circuits against copying. There is no patent-like examination process; the "mask work" is registered with the Copyright Office. However, the SCPA has a novelty standard somewhat higher than the mere "originality" standard of copyright law: protection is not available for a mask work that "consists of designs that arc 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."[2]

The Act provides for a 10-year term of protection. The bundle of rights is also somewhat different from that granted under copyright law, and copies of the "mask work" made in the course of reverse engineering are not infringing, in spite of proof of unauthorized copying and striking similarity, so long as the resulting semiconductor chip product was the result of study and analysis and contained technological improvement.[3]

The SCPA, which is not part of the copyright law but is "in harmony" with it, was tailored with a shorter term, technology-specific subject matter (original mask works), and explicit exemptions for reverse engineering that differ from copyright's fair-use exemptions.

The SCPA provides for remedies similar to those associated with copyright protection, does not allow for criminal penalties, and maintains a higher limit on statutory damages than that provided for in the Copyright Act.


  1. See, e.g., Robert W. Kastenmeier & Michael J. Remington, "The Semiconductor Chip Protection Act of 1984: A Swamp or Firm Ground?," 70 Minn. L. Rev. 417 (Dec. 1985).
  2. 17 U.S.C. §902(b)(2).
  3. Id. §906(a).

Source Edit

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