In the early days of microchip design and distribution, chip manufacturers struggled to prevent their designs from being ripped off. In order to establish that a chip mask was their property, companies would include microscopic artwork hidden in the mask such as a company logo, pop culture figure, or other symbols. Then, when in court, they could point to the duplicated artwork within their competitor’s chip as proof that the design had been lifted.
In 1984, a revision to U.S. copyright law, courtesy of the Semiconductor Chip Protection Act, made the on-chip artwork unnecessary since, from that point forward, all chip masks and designs were considered automatically copyrighted. Although no longer necessary as a tool to protect intellectual property, chip art lives on as designers continue to leave their mark within their microscopic works.
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