BANGALORE, India India's Parliament is preparing to take up intellectual-property (IP) legislation that would protect rights related to IC layout and design. The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Design bill is expected to be introduced shortly. The legislation fulfills India's obligations under the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (Trips) agreement, a key technology deal that must be approved by members of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The legislation also marks the first time that India has brought semiconductor layout design, or integrated circuit topographies, under the purview of the Trips agreement.
While the bill's introduction is seen as a welcome step forward here, industry executives said it should go further.
Most countries that attach significance to protecting IP rights for semiconductor design provide a unique kind of protection for IC layout and design, and such protection is usually contained in a separate law.
"This is a step in the right direction," said Srini Rajam, managing director at Texas Instruments (India) Ltd. "Any government initiative to protect IP will build confidence in the industry and the global investment community."
India has signed the WTO agreement, which has provisions for IP protections for establishing standards on the availability, scope and use of IP rights. The new law would build on these protections to cover IC layout and design.
Among the Indian bill's key provisions are:
Protection of semiconductor IC layout and designs by a registration process.
A mechanism for distinguishing which layout designs can be protected.
Rules to prohibit registration of layout designs which are not original and/or which have been commercially exploited.
A 10-year period of protection of layout designs.
Provisions regarding infringement and evidence of validity.
Payment of royalties for registered layout designs and provisions for determining royalty payments for "innocent," or unintentional, infringement.
Penalties for willful infringement, including imprisonment for up to three years and fines as high as $23,250.
Appointment of a registrar for registering layout designs.
Establishment of an appellate board consisting of a chairman and other members as the governing body.
"IP protection for IC design is a key factor throughout the world, and more so in India because we [also] do not have a strong IP protection policy in software," said Raja Subramaniam, India office manager for Synopsys India. "We hear of a lot of piracy in software and there are bodies trying to address this. As IC design is in its early years in India, it's important that we have a strong protection policy right in the beginning."
The number of Indian companies focusing on IC design is beginning to grow. One of the biggest is Bangalore-based Silicon Automation Systems Ltd. (SAS), where executives welcomed the introduction of the IP bill.
"It is very important," said Sunil Sherlekar, SAS' vice president of research and development. "Our company will soon be developing chip set products for the telecom market, and we would greatly benefit from this protection. We believe that in the near future, other Indian companies will also be getting into this kind of business and would benefit from the IP protection provided."
Sherlekar said he expected passage of the legislation to encourage more foreign investment in IC design in India. "We [in India] have all the talent required and this bill will take care of the protection of IP," Sherlekar said.
Subramaniam of Synopsys agreed. "Semiconductor consumption will dramatically improve, and this would force major semiconductor companies to set up their offices and address the needs of the domestic market. Also, this will [encourage] a lot more companies to base their Asia Pacific operations out of India," Subramaniam said.
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But industry executives said the expected legislation could be stronger. "Protection at the layout level itself is not sufficient," TI's Rajam said. "Most of the IP in IC design is in the higher levels of design abstraction. So, we need to do more to cover that plane."
SAS head Sherlekar agreed. "We need to extend this bill or introduce new [legislation] to provide protection for any design ideas and for algorithms. Today, any design idea can be implemented either in hardware or software or both," he said. "And what needs protection is the design idea [itself], irrespective of the form it is implemented in."
Despite its shortcomings the IP legislation is still seen as a step forward because it seeks to enact protections where none exist. "The bill by itself may not enable more investment. But, this helps to build confidence," said TI's Rajam.