One of the basic things to keep in mind is that a semiconductor integrated circuit is an integral part of a computer chip.
Do you own or use devices that have a chip embedded in it? Then, get familiar with the Semiconductor Integrated Circuit Layout Design Act 2000, also known as the SICLD Act, pertaining to which a public interest litigation has been filed before the Delhi High Court in Saurabh Bindal vs Union of India and others, challenging this Act itself as unconstitutional. Sounds too complex? To understand better, let us examine the objective and scope of the Semiconductor Integrated Circuit Layout Design Act Act and why it has been passed in the first place.
One of the basic things to keep in mind is that a semiconductor integrated circuit is an integral part of a computer chip. The SICLD Act was passed in 2000 and it was implemented in stages. It may be noted that the major provisions of the Act came into force only in 2011.
Now, for an ordinary layperson, what does the SICLD Act mean and what is its impact?
The objective of the SICLD Act aims to ensure the protection of the intellectual property right in the realm of semiconductor integrated layout designs and for all aspects pertaining to the same. The Act also lays down the penalties for infringement of a layout design, offences by companies, false representation of a layout design that is registered, and so on. While the SICLD Act empowers a registered proprietor of a semiconductor layout design to commercially exploit the same and also seek relief in case of any false representation or any infringement, some aspects of the Act have been challenged in a public interest litigation, particularly with respect to Section 18(4) of the Act.
Simply put, the Act covers everything related to the chip that is inside the devices that we use. So, this means that if you use a laptop, a computer, a Blackberry, a smartphone or any such devices, this Act is directly connected with you, as a consumer. For India, the bigger and more significant impact is for the industry, particularly as the SICLD Act, under the freedom of ‘reverse engineering’ provides that a registered layout design can be reproduced for purposes such as scientific evaluation, research, teaching and analysis.
It further states that if one creates another layout design on the basis of the analysis of an existing registered layout design, which can be deemed original as per Section 7(2) of the SICLD Act, the same can also be incorporated in the semi-conductor integrated circuit and can be used without leading to the liability of infringement.
Okay, let’s simplify this.
Suppose A has created the original registered layout design. B discovers it, analyses it thoroughly and based on A’s registered layout design, comes up with a similar design with a few tweaks, it can be done so without any issue pertaining to infringement. The argument here is that A, who is the original proprietor of the registered layout design, cannot reverse what B has done.
Now, here’s another tricky bit. A, who is the proprietor of the original registered layout design, cannot get itself registered as a user as per Section 25 of the SICLD Act. Reason? Section 18(14) poses a clear hurdle to this by placing the liability squarely on A, deeming the act of ‘reverse engineering’ as an infringement.
Let’s bring in a broader perspective. This specific aspect pertaining to Semiconductor Integrated Circuit Layout Design encompasses nearly everything across industries and devices that we use in daily life.
According to the PIL, which seeks to challenge the provisions of the Act, cites that it violates Article 14, Article 19 (i) (g) and Article 21. As a citizen, you are already aware that Article 14 of the Indian Constitution enshrines the principle of equality before law and the equal protection of laws. You also know that this is a fundamental right, which means you and every other citizen i s guaranteed this by the Constitution of India.
Article 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution provides citizens with the right to practice any profession or take up any occupation, business or trade.
Article 21 of the Constitution pertains to the Right to Life, which has a broadly and comprehensive scope and interpretation as per the coverage.
Some of the questions of law that arise in the PIL pertain to whether Section 18(4) of the Act is based on unreasonable classification of persons and without any object of classification. The PIL contends that the above mentioned provisions of the Semiconductor Integrated Circuit Layout Design Act has ended up not fulfilling the objective of the Act itself, but it has also created a class without any intelligible classification and nexus.
Not just that, a third person under Section 18(4) of the Act can still go ahead and make use of the first layout design and the second layout design for the purpose of scientific evaluation, design, research and analysis.
India is fast emerging as a hub for semi-conductor design with almost 2000 chips being designed per year and with over 20,000 engineers actively engaged in the design and verification of chip. In addition, India is generating over USD 2000 billion in revenues for the chip design services. Therefore, a closer perusal of the Semiconductor Integrated Circuit Layout Design Act and a critical examination with a problem-solving approach may be the need of the hour.