Office of Technology Transfer
Ideas Reaching the World

Mask Works

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Protected under the Semiconductor Chip Protection Act of 1984, a Mask Work is a two-dimensional layout of images representing various layers of a semiconductor chip.  It represents the predetermined three-dimensional pattern of metallic, insulating, or semiconductor material present or removed from the layers of a semiconductor chip product.  The relation of the images to one another is that each image has the pattern of the surface of one form of the semiconductor chip product. 

Although the Semiconductor Chip Protection Act of 1984 is codified under Title 17 of the Copyright law and has similar aspects to a copyright, it is not copyright nor a patent.  The Act was a solution, at the time, to a new issue created by the advent of semiconductor chips and their protection under IP law.  

Some key points;

  • A mask work must be original
  • A mask work is "original", independent creation by the author
  • The mask work may not consist solely of designs that are staple, commonplace or familiar in the semiconductor industry
  • Protection under the Act does not extend to any idea or concept associated with a mask work
  • Must be registered within 2 years of commercial use; life of 10 years
  • Notice: "Mask Work," the symbol *M*, or the symbol Ⓜ, followed by the name of the owner or a recognizable abbreviation.