Stony Stevenson writes "Pirated microchips based on stolen blueprints could soon be a thing of the past thanks to computer engineers at Rice University and the University of Michigan. The engineers have devised a way to head off this costly infringement by giving each chip its own unique lock and key. The patent holder would hold the keys, and the chip would securely communicate with the patent holder to unlock itself. The chip could operate only after being unlocked. The Ending Piracy of Integrated Circuits (Epic) technique relies on established cryptography methods, and introduces subtle changes into the chip design process without affecting performance or power consumption. With Epic protection enabled, each integrated circuit would be manufactured with a few extra switches that behave like a combination lock."