Mask Works

Under the Semiconductor Chip Protection Act (“SCPA”), the owner of certain kinds of original mask works (as defined by the SCPA) has exclusive rights in that work.  Mask works include the predetermined, three-dimensional images or patterns formed on or in the layers of metallic, insulting or semiconductor material and fixed in a semiconductor chip. The owner’s exclusive rights include the right to reproduce the mask work, to import or distribute a semiconductor chip in which the mask work is embodied, and to authorize others to do any of these acts.

The identity of the owner of a mask work depends on the particular facts and circumstances surrounding creation of the work. The owner may be (1) the person who created the mask work, (2) an employer, where an employee has created the mask work within the scope of a his/her employment, or (3) a party to whom all the rights of such person or employer are transferred in accordance with statutory requirements.

Protection for a mask work commences on the earlier of: (1) the date the mask work is registered with the Copyright Office as required by the SCPA, or (2) the date the mask work is first commercially exploited anywhere in the world.  Protection of a mask work lasts for 10 years (terminating at the end of the calendar year in which it would otherwise expire). To secure protection of a mask work for the entire 10-year term, owners must apply to register their mask works with the Copyright Office within two years of the date on which the mask work is first commercially exploited.   Failure to register within the proscribed period will terminate protection of the mask work under the SCPA.  Although administered by the U.S. Copyright Office, protection for mask works is not copyright protection.

As mentioned above, protection under the SCPA extends to the three-dimensional images or patterns formed on or in the layers of metallic, insulting or semiconductor material and fixed in a semiconductor chip.  Protection under the SCPA does not extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery associated with a mask work. Although not protected by the SCPA, these discoveries may be the subject of patent protection.

Please contact OTD if you believe there may be a commercial opportunity for a mask work in which Boston University has an interest.

For more information on mask works, you can visit the U.S. Copyright Office website at: http://www.copyright.gov/, which includes Circular 100, titled “Federal Statutory Protection for Mask Works,” http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ100.pdf