Office of Technology Transfer – University of Michigan

Integrated Circuit Design Prevents Microchip Piracy, Protects Intellectual Property Rights

Technology #3949

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Laptop computerIP protection for integrated circuit designcomputer microchip
Igor Markov
Managed By
Drew Bennett
Associate Director - Software Licensing 734-615-4004
Semiconductor Chip Protection Act of 1984
Semiconductor Chip Protection Act,
Treaty on Intellectual Property in Respect of Integrated Circuits
Treaty on Intellectual Property,
Fighting the black market: crypto-locks for CPUs, other ICs
Ars Technica, 2008
EPIC: Ending Piracy of Integrated Circuits, 2008

The EPIC (Ending Piracy of Integrated Circuits) system protects integrated circuit designs against microchip piracy. EPIC-equipped microchips will not work until the designer of the integrated circuit, who owns the intellectual property, activates it.

After the IC Chip is sold, this technology also allows the intellectual property owner to track and control the microchip, log serial numbers, and limit activation to certain parties, among other controls.

The EPIC system can easily be added to existing integrated circuits with little change to the chip’s design. EPIC chips perform as well as existing microchips and do not consume any more power. Random number generation and key cryptography are embedded in the chip, and the encrypted transmission can be sent over a phone line or internet connection. 

Microchip IP Protection through Key Cryptography in IC Chip Design 

This IP protection system uses public key cryptography to create and transmit a master key known only to the designer. The chip remains locked through fabrication until it is activated, at which time it transmits random key codes from the semiconductor fabricator and purchaser to the designer and IP holder. The codes must be matched to the master key to unlock the chip before it can be tested and used.

This method is highly resilient against attacks, making it difficult for a potential hardware pirate to eavesdrop the key by recording communication between the chip and the unlocking authority.

Microchips Used in Personal Computers, Cell Phones, Digital Devices, RFID Tags, Automobiles

The ubiquity of the microchip in so many products, digital devices, and electronics makes IP protection of the utmost importance. Integrated circuit microchips exist in these and many other products:


  • IP protection for a broad class of integrated circuits


  • IP protection 
  • Highly resilient against attacks 
  • Low overhead