The court in The Hague has ruled that ASML with immersion lithography for the production of chips did not infringe on a certain patent from Nikon. According to the court, the patent is void and therefore there can be no question of an infringement by ASML.
This case is a patent that Nikon applied for in 2004 and obtained on 27 May 2015. This deliberate Nikon patent relates to an exposure technology that can transfer reticle patterns with different mutual distances in the pattern to a wafer with high precision and contrast in one go. According to the court , this patent is not inventive in the light of two other, older patents, one of which is from ASML and the other in the possession of Carl Zeiss. That is why the patent has been annulled. ASML uses optical components from the German company in immersion lithography. Nikon demanded compensation, and a stop on the sale and delivery of the machines, but that requirement has therefore been rejected.
Specifically, the Nikon patent concerns a deflection element for the generation of a number of light beams via a diffraction grating. According to Nikon, an improved exposure is achieved by deflecting the light with the deflection element, generating different light rays that are led to a pupil plane. A pupil plane is a plane in front of or behind a lens on which the light rays come together. That makes it possible to simultaneously transfer patterns with both fine and coarser structures.
The judge does not agree with Nikon’s claim that a Carl Zeiss patent infringes Nikon’s patent, because Carl Zeiss’s patent would also have a deflection element. The Carl Zeiss patent concerns an aperture stop and according to the court it has not been substantiated that this can not be regarded as a deflection element. The ASML patent also provides the technology, according to the judge, to apply different patterns, both coarse and fine, to a wafer with high resolution. This means that the Nikon patent is seen by the judge as not inventive and therefore void, with which there can be no question of an infringement of Nikon’s intellectual property.
With this the legal battle ax has not yet been buried. It started in 2001 when Nikon sued ASML in the US. This case was arranged in 2004, whereby patents were mutually licensed. It was also agreed not to denounce each other until December 31, 2014. Nikon claimed in 2017 that ASML infringes on eleven patents and then also filed a case in Tokyo. In addition, Nikon started a case against Carl Zeiss in Germany. ASML said in 2017 that Nikon has not taken any serious steps to negotiate licensing agreements.
Opposite the Eindhovens Dagblad , an ASML spokesperson said that the statement was in line with expectations and that the company had confidence in the course of the remaining patent cases. Nikon says that it appeals against the judgment of the Court of The Hague.
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