In recent years, there has been an extensive boost in technological concepts related to electronics and electrical domain. Electronic engineering is a constantly changing and widening branch of technology. Electronics and semiconductor engineering is one of the largest and fastest growing industries. This growth has entailed a wide range of patent filing, all through. Electronics and semiconductors covers a wide range of applications we use daily, such as Television, Radio, computers, telecommunication etc, which make our life easier and enjoyable. It helps us see, hear and communicate over enormous distances and accomplish tasks faster.
Electronics plays a major role in industries like oil, energy, agriculture and many other important sectors of economy. Electronics and semiconductor patents form a subclass of electrical patents. The electrical patenting class is broadly classified into many subclasses based on the area. Some subclasses include Digital Electronics, Analog Electronics, Micro Electronics, Fuzzy Electronics, Application Specific Integrated Circuit Design, Semiconductors and Semiconductor devices, etc.
Patents are further classified based on the development of their active elements involving the design and testing of electronic circuits that use the electronic properties of components such as resistors, capacitors, inductors, diodes, microcontrollers, microprocessors and transistors to achieve a particular functionality. For example, 326 is the generic class for patents related to electronic digital logic devices, circuitry and sub combinations thereof, wherein non-arithmetical operations are performed upon discrete electrical signals representing a value normally described by numerical digits. It further has subclass 12 for redundant logic having a flip flop and subclass 37 for a multifunctional or programmable logic having a flip flop.
Integrated circuits and processing architectures are other categories protected by patents. Different aspects of these technologies such as architecture, applications or designs are protected by employing different intellectual property laws. As an invention, hardware architecture and their applications are protected as utility patents while Integrated circuit designs are protected as design patents. Hence, both design concepts and hardware are protected by patents. In discharging its patent-related duties, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) examines patent applications and grants patents after establishing the patenting class and patentability of an invention. The claims of a patent serve as a guide in patent prosecution and infringement law suits.
There has been a steady growth in electrical, electronics and semiconductor patents being filed and granted by U.S. patent office since 1996. About 8, 16,349 electrical patents are being granted till December 31st 2004 and every year approximately 60,000 electrical patents are granted. U.S. Patent office has approximately granted 3, 70,000 semiconductor patents, 19,279 global positioning system patents, 75,109 electronics and communication patents.
Since its inception, the patent system has attempted to balance the tension between 2 competing objectives. On one hand, the law rewards technical innovation by granting exclusive rights to individuals for worthy inventions. On the other hand, it also seeks to increase the welfare of the society as a whole by providing it with the benefits of innovation. Electronics and semiconductor patents provide public with valuable information about how to use and implement new technology once it enters public domain.
One way to trace the development of electronics and semiconductor technology is to follow the development of its active elements, the switches and valves of electronics systems. A more recent trend in circuit design is to build custom integrated circuits that include as much circuitry as possible, often combining both analog and digital circuitry on a single substrate. This area is known as application specific integrated circuits (ASIC); the designers work with relatively small prefabricated circuits commonly called macro cells. In recent years there has been an increase in patent filing because in many industries and product development companies a division of innovative labor is emerging, resulting in the licensing of existing and prospective technologies. Hewlett Packard, Sanyo and Sony are some of the leading electronic companies in the world with a growing patent portfolio over the years.