SAN JOSE, Calif. – Nikon is suing ASML and its lens supplier Carl Zeiss for patent infringement, requesting courts in Germany, Japan and the Netherlands award damages and bar sales of ASML’s immersion lithography systems. The latest moves come after negotiations in the long-running patent dispute broke down late last year, according to a Reuters report.
In the Netherlands, Nikon launched separate cases for each of 11 European patents it claims ASML infringes. It brought a case citing two of the European patents in Mannheim, Germany, where Zeiss makes optical components for ASML. Nikon also is asserting two Japanese patents against ASML in Tokyo District Court.
“We firmly believe that ASML’s unauthorized use of Nikon patents on our most advanced technologies, including immersion lithography technology, has enabled ASML to expand its lithography business,” said Kazuo Ushida, president and representative director of Nikon, in a press statement.
“Nikon’s litigation is unfounded, unnecessary and creates uncertainty for the semiconductor industry,” said ASML CEO Peter Wennink in a press statement. “Over the past years, ASML has made repeated attempts to negotiate an extension of its cross-license agreement with Nikon,” he said, charging, “Nikon did not make any serious efforts to negotiate and has opted for legal action instead.”
In January, ASML reported record annual revenues of about 6.795 billion euro (about $7.37 billion). Nikon claims about $3.5 billion euro ($3.8 billion) is for sales covered by its patents on immersion steppers.
The dispute between the two companies goes back to December 2001, when Nikon filed infringement suits against ASML in the United States. Nikon, ASML and Zeiss forged a settlement in 2004 that covered some patents permanently and newer ones until the end of 2009.
The deal set out a non-assertion period until the end of 2014. Nikon claims it started in 2010 attempts to renegotiate a new deal with ASML in Zeiss.
“Odds are the companies will forge another settlement…I’m surprised ASML let it come to this because they are not light on cash,” said G. Dan Hutcheson, president of market watcher VLSI Research.
“Nikon was the leader in lithography systems with greater than 60% share in the early 1990’s. It was among the first to start publicly working on today’s immersion technology. However Nikon continued to handle development in Japan while ASML gained ground using a collaborative approach, working with chip makers in their own fabs.
“Today, ASML has 84 percent share on the lithography market and 93 percent in immersion steppers. Nikon now is a distant second with nine percent share of the overall lithopgtaphy market, according to VLSI Research.
“It’s no surprise Nikon is trying to get a return on all the money it put into R&D for immersion,” said Hutcheson.
European patent numbers referenced in the cases are 1,598,855; 1,652,003; 1,881,521; 2,157,480; 2,264,531; 2,624,282; 2,717,098; 2,752,714; 2,765,595; 2,808,737; and 2,937,734. The Japanese patent numbers are 4,604,452 and 5,708,546.
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times