ASML and Nikon reportedly beat Canon to the punch in 193-nm lithography, freezing Canon out. Last September, Hutcheson told EE Times that Canon had developed a leading-edge lithography tool but that customers had already adopted either ASML or Nikon and were hesitant to switch.
Both ASML and Nikon have also been working for years to develop EUV tools. EUV was once seen as the leading candidate for lithography at the 22-nm half pitch node, but has recently been pushed outagainto 16-nm production.
Meanwhile, nano-imprint, once viewed as a potential challenger or successor to EUV, remains stuck in the R&D niche. The technology has not cracked mainstream production in semiconductor fabs, and at last month's SPIE conference it was revealed that the technology won't be in production for several years in perhaps its biggest potential market: hard disk drives (HDDs). Nano-imprint advocates had been hoping MII and other vendors could generate much needed revenue in HDD production while continuing to develop the technology for eventual semiconductor production. But HDD makers reportedly delayed the transition, due to some unforeseen issues with template production and other reasons.
Canon already has a relationship with another nano-imprint lithography company, Obducat AB (Malmo, Sweden). Canon's market arm acts as Obducat's distributor. Last September Canon sold an Obducat system to Toshiba Corp. on Obducat's behalf.
MII has sold 10 systems in the HDD industry, including Hitachi Global Storage Technologies and Fujitsu Ltd. Chip processing consortium Sematch, Toshiba and others have also ordered tools.
It remains unclear if MII is profitable. The company is privately held and does not report quarterly financialsthough it claimed to be hiring and gaining momentum amid the downturn last year.
Still, MII is backed by some $90 million in funding from venture capital, strategic investors and government. It's conveivable that investors could be getting antsy and looking for an exit strategyparticulary if the company's prospects for profitability are still on the horizon.
In the interview Wednesday, Hutcheson expressed admiration for MII, but said nano-imprint's prospects versus EUV remain grim. "The progress they've made is really impressive, but there are still so many issues with [nano-imprint] that it's still not competitive with EUV," Hutcheson said. He added that the amount of money that has been invested in EUV dwarfs any investment in nano-imprint to this point.