05 May 2017
The Hague
Reporter: Barney Dixon

Nikon widens aperture, sets sights on ASML and Zeiss


Nikon has launched a series of patent infringement lawsuits against Dutch semiconductor manufacturer ASML and its optical component supplier, Carl Zeiss.

The camera company accused ASML and Zeiss of employing its patented technology in ASML’s lithography systems, which are used to manufacture semiconductors.

Nikon has initiated 11 lawsuits in total, ranging from the District Court of The Hague in the Netherlands, to the Mannheim District Court in Germany and Tokyo’s District Court in Japan.

According to a statement from Nikon, it previously met with the two companies aiming to reach a settlement, but talks failed and Nikon said it was given “no alternative but to enforce its legal rights in the courts of law”.

In 2001, Nikon filed a complaint with the US International Trade Commission, accusing ASML of patent infringement. But in 2003, the commission found no evidence of violation and the two companies reached a cross-licence agreement, which was meant to allow both companies to develop their products without unnecessary IP disputes.

Kazuo Ushida, president and representative director of Nikon, said: “Through substantial and sustained investment in R&D, Nikon has developed advanced lithography technologies, including immersion lithography technology, that have revolutionised the semiconductor industry.”

“Semiconductors are core components of the electronic devices on which consumers, companies and the global economy rely.”

He added: “We firmly believe that ASML's unauthorised use of Nikon patents on our most advanced technologies, including immersion lithography technology, has enabled ASML to expand its lithography business.”

“Respect for intellectual property is fundamental to fair and healthy competition, and is essential to promoting innovations that provide society with the most advanced products and services.”

In a statement, ASML said it “categorically denies infringing any of Nikon’s patents”, and, jointly with Zeiss, has filed counter lawsuits against Nikon in both Japan and the US.

Peter Wenninik, president and CEO of ASML, said that the company had “no choice but to file these countersuits.”

“We have tried for many years to come to a cross-license agreement that reflects the increased strength of our patent portfolio. Unfortunately, Nikon has never seriously participated in negotiations.”

“Now that Nikon has decided to take this dispute to court, we also have to enforce our patent portfolio, and we will do this as broadly as possible.”

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