back to article Nikon snaps at Dutch, German rivals: You stole our chip etch lens tech!

Nikon has declared global legal war on rivals it says are ripping off crucial optical technology it developed to print microchips. The Japanese camera giant claims Netherlands-based ASML and Germany's Carl Zeiss together infringed more than a dozen patents it holds in the field of immersion lithography – the high-tech process …

  1. Jim Mitchell
    Unhappy

    re: If you've got an hour or so to kill, and are interested in this stuff, Intel's Sam Sivakumar gave a guest lecture at Stanford introducing modern lithography.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bhEDQzNQ-c

    Has anything changed since 2012 when that was published? EUV is still not ready.

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Since 2012 more fabs have moved to multipatterning and incremental improvements to the litho and processing equipment have been made. No major process steps have been made. EUV tech is on the brink of being ready. Given past PR statements from ASML and the status of the tech as far as I know I suspect ASML will start shipping production ready systems very soon.

      EUV tech is MINDBOGGLINGLY complicated and the amount of new technology and knowledge that had to be created took a LOT more time than anticipated. It's getting close. Really close.

  2. Flame Boar

    EUL is in use, although the throughput is still lower than the customers would like. This means that 193i with MultiPatterning is the main lithography method for creating small feature sizes today.

  3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    So Nikon a bit strapped and looking for the readies? Could be Polaroid Vs Kodak again.

    And we all know how well that ended for Kodak.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: So Nikon a bit strapped and looking for the readies? Could be Polaroid Vs Kodak again.

      Nikon photo business is not going that well, a few billions from a lawsuit would be welcome... when managers can't manage, and executive can't execute, it's time to call in the lawyers!

    2. FuzzyWuzzys
      Thumb Up

      Re: So Nikon a bit strapped and looking for the readies? Could be Polaroid Vs Kodak again.

      Just what I was thinking. Nikon are too busy fighting with Canon over the higher end pro market ( D5 vs 1Dx2 ) , meanwhile Sony, Fuji, et all are stealing the middle ground with their lighter mirrorless kit. I'm about to turn in my 8 year old 5DM2 for a new bag of kit, getting on a bit and I'm seriously considering dumping DSLR and heading down the Sony route. I know a couple of pro's who've dumped their DSLR bodies for mirrorless kit and using a combination of original DSLR lenses with adapters and the mirrorless manufacturer lenses.

      Not saying DSLR is dead yet but it's looking more like Canon and Nikon are going to get serioulsy squeezed by Sony/Fuji from below and Hassie/Phase ONE from above.

      1. Sir Sham Cad

        Re: Sony/Fuji

        I have to say, for my non-pro photography needs my (old) Fuji DSLR works a treat. Not a lot of fancy image processing but that's what being a photographer is for. It is bulky, however, and I'm considering swapping for a modern compact. Not a Sony, though.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    First thing we do..

    ..is kill all the lawyers.

    1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Re: First thing we do..

      I suspect that the people helped by Erin Brokovich will disagree..

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. davcefai

    What goes round...

    Many years ago it was alleged that Nikon cloned the Leica camera and then used it as a base to develop the SLR camera, at which point Leitz stole it back.

    I recall a case where a Japanese company - forget which - cloned an IBM chip, including a mistake which was "fenced off" from the rest of the circuit. Apparently they could not figure out how it worked so they just copied the lot.

    Those were the "wild west" days. Today they use lawyers. Is it just me or was it more fun in those days? (For the bystanders anyway) :-)

  6. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    Is this simply a litigation-fest? Nikon decided it couldn't make enough money from the technology license agreement. So it refuses to renew the license then, when the time is right, they sue the companies that can make a profit from it for far more than the license would have cost ... I would imagine (hope!) if Nikon were found to have refused to even discuss a continuation of a license agreement then the court would take a dim view of a subsequent claim ... that's close to monopolistic interference in the third party's business.

    1. paulf
      Alert

      I came here thinking the same. Nikon, apparently, have a financial incentive NOT to agree an amicable continuation of the licensing agreement as once the four year stand-still is up they can sue (probably for more as they can claim wilful infringement). That looks more like an unintended consequence of the stand-still period though. Also it's higher risk as it isn't a given the court will find in their favour and if they've deliberately contrived the current situation as a means to send in the lawyers I imagine the court probably won't be that impressed.

      Time to grab some popcorn if silicon lithography is your thang.

    2. Named coward

      Assuming these are not FRAND type / standards-essential patents, why should they be forced to discuss the continuation of a license agreement? The license was for x years, x years are up, the other company even had y years to switch to another method.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        @named coward, there IS no other method. Immersion litho is the workable way we currently have to process wafers below the 30 nanometer node (which is already old tech in litho terms).

        The real reason Nikon isn't too keen on letting ASML continue in the market is probably because it's getting squeezed out of the litho market by ASML. Which is most likely because ASML delivers a better product (though I might be biased) for a comparable price. If they can put enough margin on the ASML price due to patent royalties they might get a better market margin.

      2. paulf
        Facepalm

        @ Named coward

        I think you've kinda missed my point. It's not that they're obligated (or should be forced) to strike a license deal because of something like FRAND obligations. My point was that Nikon has an underlying and slightly perverse incentive (via the law of unintended consequences) to NOT strike a deal because going to court could land them a bigger payout than they'd get from having completed a reasonable negotiation to both sides mutual benefit.

        To put it another way - instead of leaving the goose get on and lay the golden eggs they've decided to cut it open; in court.

        Unfortunately for us all (El Reg stories + forums passim) the only ones enriched by that kind of strategy is the lawyers.

  7. Conundrum1885

    Re. EUV

    Interesting to note that we've gotten this far without EUV kit, 7nm is still pretty impressive.

    The number of machine learning steps needed to make a chip work at all with such small features is 4 or more generations, essentially we have long since (around 2002) lost the ability to know exactly why a given transistor goes where, or why a chip that works fine at 4.2 GHz fails either side of this.

    I did recall that some newer chips are pre-screened at the factory using X-rays, presumably this is for aerospace and .mil applications where reliability has to be absolute.

    Also recall that the newest memory is only ever powered up after all the chips have been assembled into a stack (see earlier) and often the yield can be as low as 60%.

    That 256GB uSD has monstrous overprovisioning equal to 320GB, in fact 320GB isn't even state of the art now and getting the yields up was the reason 200GB and 256GB were spaced by five months.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Re. EUV

      "7nm is still pretty impressive."

      And also _very_ fuzzy, unlike the diagrams and pretty pictures used to illustrate it. The impressive part is that it actually works at all using the litho tech currently deployed (hence the low yields)

      It's difficult to go much smaller even with EUV or xray litho as at this scale, features are only a few atoms across - but having sharper edges on them means that "a few" might be consistent numbers instead of "somewhere between 0 and 20" and should result in higher yields. Consistency might be the hobgoblin of small minds but it's kinda useful when you're stamping out parts.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Re. EUV

        The biggest draw of using EUV over multi-patterning (we're up to quad-patterning with the 9 nm node already) is that EUV can achieve these nodes at single pass exposures. Line edge roughness is actually comparable (Due to electrons being knocked loose by the EUV from what I understand, which is a problem getting solved by new resist types), but single pass allows for smaller feature to feature distances, meaning more efficient chips even at the same CD.

        I'm not all that in depth knowledge about the exact process specs. I'm just involved in building parts for them and then keeping those parts operational.

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