Integrated circuit design protection

In New Zealand, the layout design of semi-conductors and integrated circuits is protected by the Layout Designs Act 1994.

International layout design law

In 1989, the Treaty on Intellectual Property in respect of Integrated Circuits was signed in Washington DC.  New Zealand is not a party to this treaty.

The Washington Treaty was, however, incorporated into Article 35 of the Agreement on the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement) and as a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), New Zealand is a party to the TRIPS Agreement.

What qualifies for layout design protection

To qualify for protection under the Act, the layout design must meet the definition of layout design or integrated circuit under the Act be original.

Layout design is defined in section 2 of the Act as:

"The three-dimensional disposition, however expressed, of the elements, at least one of which is an active element, and of some or all of the interconnections, of an integrated circuit; and includes such a three-dimensional disposition prepared for an integrated circuit intended for manufacture".

Integrated circuit is defined as meaning "A circuit, in its final or an intermediate form, in which the elements, at least one of which is an active element, and some or all of the interconnections are integrally formed in or on a piece of material and that is intended to perform an electronic function".

Protection under the Act may coexist with any patents that are granted under the Patents Act 1953.  The definition of ‘artistic work’ in section 2 of the Copyright Act 1994 excludes layout designs and integrated circuits from copyright protection.

What doesn’t qualify for layout design protection

Under section 6 of the Act, a layout design is not original, and therefore protection is not available, if its making involved no intellectual effort by the maker.

Rights conferred by a layout design right

The owner of a layout design right has the exclusive right to:

  • Copy the layout design, directly or indirectly, in a material form
  • Make an integrated circuit in accordance with the layout design or a copy of the layout design
  • Commercially exploit the layout design in New Zealand.


A layout design is commercially exploited if the layout design, a copy of that design or an integrated circuit made in accordance with that design is:

  • Sold
  • Hired
  • Offered for sale
  • Imported for the purposes of sale or hire.

How long layout design intellectual property protection lasts

The Act gives the owner of a layout design protection for 10 years from the date when the layout design was first commercially exploited, where this occurred within the first five year period after the layout design was made.

In other cases, the owner receives protection for 15 years from the date the layout design was made.

How to protect your layout design

Registration of layout designs is not required and there is no formal system for the registration of layout designs in New Zealand. 

Under the Act, layout design protection arises automatically when:

  • The layout design is first commercially exploited in an eligible country, or
  • The layout design is first made by a resident of an eligible country.

Eligible countries are those where New Zealand and the other entity are both parties to an international agreement or arrangement relating to the protection of layout designs, or where reciprocal protection for layout designs is available in both entities. 

Where to find legal advice on intellectual property layout design

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is not able to provide legal advice. If you have questions about your legal position, please contact an intellectual property lawyer.  You’ll find them in the:

Yellow Pages website

New Zealand Law Society website

The New Zealand Patent Attorney Register on the IPONZ website

Find out more

To find out more about intellectual property protection in New Zealand, contact the Intellectual Property Policy Group.

Related links

Layout Designs Act 1994 on the New Zealand Legislation website

TRIPS Agreement on the World Trade Organisation website 


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Copyright Act Review