I generally understand the difference of copyright and patent, however, as software programs are copyrighted, I began to doubt that all hardware specifics are patent protected only. I'm particularly interested in ARM architecture used in smartphones, Wikipedia just says IP (intellectual properly) licensing and I was not able to find definite answer by web search. To understand if any parts of hardware principles could be protected by copyright seems important to me as patents give (only) 20 years protection, but copyright AFAIK times longer.

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    For the specific question about what ARM sells when they license "their architecture", please read this Q&A: electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/226820/…
    – Brandin
    Sep 15, 2021 at 8:26
  • Also slightly confusing here is that it seems many EEs tend to use the term "IP" somewhat informally to refer to any kind of design for a chip, or for firmware on a chip. Supposedly, that stands for "Intellectual Property" but I would be careful in assuming its always equivalent to any specific legal definition of Intellectual Property (e.g. copyrights, patents).
    – Brandin
    Sep 15, 2021 at 8:33

1 Answer 1


“Principles” are not protectable by copyright, just their expression. A clever hardware concept will not be covered by copyright but a white paper describing it would be. Also, just like software, the VHDL code or schematic diagram defining a hardware design is protected by copyright. It doesn’t protect the circuit, just the particular representation of the circuit.

There is a special class of copyright material covered by mask works in the US that protect the physical layout of integrated circuits.

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