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Nikon sues Dutch rival ASML after settement 13 years ago

Japanese company says patent infringement has continued

Nikon is the world's second-largest manufacturer of semiconductor-making lithography systems, commanding a tenth of market.

TOKYO -- Nikon is suing Dutch company ASML Holding and its German supplier for patent infringement in chipmaking equipment, demanding suspension of product sales and damages.

The Japanese company has launched legal actions against ASML and its supplier of optical components, Carl Zeiss SMT. It maintains that the parties have illegally used Nikon's patented technology in ArF immersion lithography systems, which enables even finer circuit details to be etched on semiconductors.

Nikon has filed complaints with courts in The Hague, Netherlands; Mannheim, Germany, and Tokyo, requesting injunctions for damage payment and to bar sales of the systems. In Germany, Nikon is tentatively asking for 10 million euros ($10.8 million). In Japan, partial damages of 100 million yen ($910,200) are sought, and in the Netherlands, the Japanese company will ask for daily penalties of 5 million euros if court injunctions are ignored.

ASML fiercely defended its position in a statement released Monday, calling Nikon's claims "without merit" and asserting that the litigation "distracts from driving technology forward for the benefit of chipmakers."

Nikon sued ASML in 2001 for patent infringement, and the case was settled in 2004 with payment of about 16 billion yen to Nikon. The two sides formed a licensing agreement followed by a non-assertion period when they would not sue each other for patent infringement. Nikon had considered legal actions since the non-assertion expired at the end of 2014.

Nikon was the world's leading manufacture of chipmaking lithography systems in the 1990s. But ASML gained traction from around 2000 by offering high-productivity equipment to South Korean and Chinese chipmakers. Around 2005, ASML surpassed Nikon in market share.

Today ASML is the market leader, with a share exceeding 80% in value terms. Nikon's share is around 10%, and Canon holds the remainder of nearly 10%. "Nikon also had the technology but was slow to turn it into products," says Hisashi Moriyama of JPMorgan Securities Japan.

Having struggled in digital cameras and chipmaking equipment, Nikon said in its restructuring plan announced in November that it would stop developing cutting-edge lithography equipment.

(Nikkei)

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