Nikon sues ASML, Carl Zeiss over lithography

April 25, 2017 // By Peter Clarke
Japan's chip lithography company Nikon Corp. has initiated a series of court cases in the Netherlands, Germany and Japan against AMSL Holding NV, related ASML companies and ASML's optical supplier Carl Zeiss SMT GmbH alleging infringement of intellectual property.

ASML (Veldhoven, The Netherlands) is the world's largest lithography equipment supplier and is starting to see backlog building for extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography equipment. ASML said it believes Nikon's claims are "without merit" and that it intends to defend itself.

Nikon claims that ASML and Zeiss use Nikon's patented technology in ASML's lithography systems and specifically immersion lithography, which accounts for about 76 percent of ASML's sales in 2016, or about $3.5 billion in sales. Nikon is seeking injunctions against ASML selling and distributing such systems and damages.

Nikon claims that it pioneered immersion lithography in the 2000s. The technology has gone on to become a standard method of defining memory and logic chips. Nikon reached a settlement and cross-license agreement with ASML and Zeiss in 2004 under which some patents were permanently licensed and others licensed for a limited period until December 31, 2009.

Nikon stated that the two parties agreed a non-assertion period from January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2014. Nikon said it has met with ASML and Zeiss but attempts to resolve the issue had failed leaving it no alternative but to take ASML to court.

ASML argues that it has made repeated efforts to negotiate an extension of its patent cross-license agreement with Nikon but that Nikon had not engaged seriously and had instead chosen to go to law.

"Nikon's litigation is unfounded, unnecessary and creates uncertainty for the semiconductor industry," said Peter Wennink, CEO of ASML, in a statement.

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