D05.2 Integrated circuits [s.43(1)(c)]

Date Published

Section 43(1)(c) of the Designs Act 2003 (Cth) prescribes designs in relation to a product that is an integrated circuit within the meaning of the Circuits Layouts Act 1989 (Cth), part of such a circuit, or a mask to make such an integrated circuit.

The Circuits Layouts Act defines an 'integrated circuit' as:

'a circuit, whether in a final form or an intermediate form, the purpose, or one of the purposes, of which is to perform an electronic function, being a circuit in which the active and passive elements, and any of the interconnections, are integrally formed in or on a piece of material.'

A 'circuit layout' is defined under the Circuits Layouts Act 1989 to be:

'a representation, fixed in any material form, of the three-dimensional location of the active and passive elements and interconnections making up an integrated circuit.'

The integrated circuit is required to be '…integrally formed in or on a piece of material.'  ‘Integrally’ requires the element be formed as an inseparable part of the piece of material. Typically, integrated circuits are formed with deposition and etching of multiple layers. Monolithic IC devices have a semiconductor die with doped and etched regions formed in a piece of semiconductor (the die) and subsequently interconnection layers etc are deposited. Silicon-on-sapphire devices have a thin semiconductor layer formed on a piece of material (sapphire), with the semiconductor layer being subsequently doped and etched with further layers deposited for interconnections etc.

An ‘integrated circuit’ is defined as 'a circuit in which the active and passive elements...'. This implies a plurality of components - so that a single transistor die would not be an integrated circuit. However a plurality of only active components, or only passive components (e.g. resistors), forming a circuit could be an integrated circuit. Similarly an integrated Darlington pair (two interconnected transistors) is an integrated circuit within this definition, even though it tends to be thought of as a transistor rather than an integrated circuit.

That is, the Circuit Layouts Act relates to the pattern of circuitry on the surface of the semiconductor contained in an Integrated Circuit (commonly referred to as a ‘chip’). The exclusion under the Designs Act relates to some or all of the pattern on the chip, or to the ‘masks’ used in the manufacture of the chip. [In the manufacture of an IC, light is shone on the surface through a Mask to generate the required circuitry patterns.] The exclusion does not relate to:

  • the plastic housing containing the chip [note ALRC recommendation 18], or the pin layout.
  • Printed circuit boards. [It should be noted that a printed circuit board per se does not have active or passive elements, and is therefore not an integrated circuit. When components are added to a printed circuit board (e.g. by the application of surface-mounted resistors, transistors etc), those elements are formed elsewhere and could not be said to be 'formed in or on' the circuit board. Consequently, circuit board layouts (whether or not populated) are not prescribed – and may be the subject of Design registration.]