Intellectual property refers to a body of rights relating to works of authorship, inventions, trademarks, masks, designs, and trade secrets. There are two broad areas: industrial property (inventions, trademarks, industrial design, and protection of trade secrets) and copyrights.

Society at large acknowledges that without some form of protection, invention will be stifled. Legal frameworks for the protection of intellectual property across a wide range of creative work from art to engineering have been established. Naturally laws vary from country to country, and while this treatment is written from a U.S. perspective, the broad principles are similar. However, it is important to investigate the laws of a particular country to ensure proper analysis of the legal safeguards.

In the context of FPGAs, both novel FPGA applications as well as novel forms of architecture or device engineering represent intellectual property, and design engineers as well as corporations need to protect their investment of time, effort and resources.

7.5.1   Patents

A patent allows its owner to control the exploitation of an invention, either directly or by licensing to others, for 17 years from the time a patent is awarded. (In many other countries a patent is offered for a period of 20 years from the time of application for the patent.) A patentable invention must have some tangible implementation, which now includes algorithms as implemented in software and microprograms, ...

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