back to article Zeiss, ASML hit back at Nikon in chip-printing patent row

ASML and Zeiss have counter-sued Nikon over patents used in the manufacture of microchips. The two companies claim that Nikon, which just days ago accused them of violating its patents on immersion lithography, is itself infringing on patented technology. Both have filed suit in Nikon's home country of Japan. The suits, which …

  1. imanidiot Silver badge

    That last part.

    For all the turmoil and chaos that is the semicon business companies like Global Foundries, TSMC, Intel, etc do NOT like uncertainty about the continued operation and supply of their most critical manufacturing tools. Nikon and ASML are the 2 main players for the most critical step in the whole process. They'll be getting a slap on the back of the head from suppliers soon enough telling them to play nice and share their toys.

    Neither party has solid ground to stand on and risks drowning in the patent quicksand if they don't get to stand on each others IP.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: That last part.

      "They'll be getting a slap on the back of the head from suppliers soon enough telling them to play nice and share their toys."

      What if it's replied with a turn-around haymaker and a counter-claim, "What are you gonna do without our PATENTED technology, hmm?"

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: That last part.

        @AC, there ARE other (though very small) players in the litho market. Companies like Nikon and ASML get to be the billion dollar companies they are because semicon manufacturers actually buy their product. Keeping those companies happy is the only reason ASML or Nikon have any succes in the market. And as someone involved somewhat in that process, let me tell you they are very demanding clients! (No wonder if an hour of tool downtime costs in the order of 500k or more!). Screw up enough and one of those other small players might suddenly find itself getting a boatload of cash dumped on it to get building.

        And litho companies have no qualms about booting a supplier from their fabs.

        (I have heard a possibly apocrifal story of a PVD equipment supplier who got told their tools had been removed from the fab after the last breakdown that morning and if they wanted to salvage them they could come pick them up. Ohh, and they were already outside the building in the parking lot. And they might like to hurry as the forecast was for heavy showers that afternoon).

        A threat about not buying certain equipment or delaying orders can have VERY heavy repercussions on the operation of a company. You can bet your shiny metal behind that both Nikon and ASML will not do anything to anger their supplier much.

      2. localzuk

        Re: That last part.

        @AC - "What if it's replied with a turn-around haymaker and a counter-claim, "What are you gonna do without our PATENTED technology, hmm?""

        My guess? They'd be bought up pretty damn quick. Intel and co are far bigger heavyweights in the corp world. They could buy Nikon easily, separate out the lithography patents and sell the remainder.

        Actually, that'd probably be Intel's best move.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: That last part.

      "Neither party has solid ground to stand on and risks drowning in the patent quicksand if they don't get to stand on each others IP."

      Indeed.

      Thermonuclear patent war? A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.

    3. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: That last part.

      Sorta...

      It is an industry which likes the occasional turmoil, because only floods, hurricanes and patent wars give it the opportunity to raise prices. The rest of the time everyone is racing to the bottom.

    4. paulf
      Terminator

      Re: That last part.

      The update caught my eye: "A Nikon spokesman has been in touch to say: "[...] ASML is clearly concerned about the potential impact of Nikon’s legal actions which relate to products that account for 76.3 per cent of ASML sales in the year ended December 2016, or approximately €3.5 billion."

      My interpretation: "We at Nikon have studied in significant and minute detail exactly how much our legal action will hurt ASML".

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: That last part.

        @paulf, Not really, just open the ASML yearly statement over 2016 (available publicly afaik) and they state pretty much precisely how much each of their units (ARF, IRF, IRF Immersion and EUV) have made.Since Nikons claim falls over exactly one of those units (IRF immersion) it's easy to do the math.

  2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    FAIL

    Should have renegotiated that patent deal.

    Cost a bit of money to lawyers.

    Now instead it will cost a lot of money to lawyers.

    Result. Bonuses all round.

    To lawyers.

    Chip lithography is hard and I'm sure they've all got clever little bits of this huge puzzle. they all need each other. It seems they have forgotten this lesson.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Should have renegotiated that patent deal.

      "Should have renegotiated that patent deal. "

      Oh, I'm sure that they will now that Zeiss and ASML have countered with the implied threat of Mutually Assured Destruction, with the desired- and by far the most likely- outcome being that Nikon come to their senses and work something out.

      But not- as you suggest- before the lawyers have squeezed a lot more money out of the situation regardless.

    2. Swarthy Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: Should have renegotiated that patent deal.

      If they don't all hang together, then they will surely hang separately? I think I have heard this somewhere before...

  3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    filing suit in three countries (the Netherlands, Germany, and Japan)

    I may be wrong, but surely a judgement in one EU country applies across the EU, so why spend money "filing suit" in both Netherlands and Germany?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: filing suit in three countries (the Netherlands, Germany, and Japan)

      The European patent office is in Germany and ASML are a Dutch company so it probably just means they sent the letters to the EPO and the company HQ

    2. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: filing suit in three countries (the Netherlands, Germany, and Japan)

      If I remember correctly some of the earliest patents were filed through the dutch patent office before the EU patent bureau even existed. Possibly they thus have to file in the Netherlands for some of those?

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: filing suit in three countries (the Netherlands, Germany, and Japan)

        But hasn't the EU patent bureau been around long enough that any patent filed BEFORE they existed will have run its term by this point?

        1. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: filing suit in three countries (the Netherlands, Germany, and Japan)

          @Charles 9

          Yes, you would be correct. The EPO was started in 1977 apparently. (ASML wasn't around until 1984) So it's not that

  4. ma1010
    Joke

    We need to change patent law

    When big corporations sue each other over patents, I think we should use a different system from the normal court trials. We tend to look down on the Middle Ages, but in many ways, they were wise. I think we should revive their concept of trial by combat, with the CEOs squaring off with pistols at dawn. (To keep the chronology straight, purists may feel it should be swords instead of pistols. Or follow the code duello and let the challenged party select the weapons.)

    Only one can survive, winner take all. If neither survives, bring up the #2s in each company and repeat until we have a result.

    This would probably cut way down on patent lawsuits. And it would help rid the world of patent trolls (assuming they lose, of course). You may feel I'm being a bit barbaric here, but really, how many of us would have enjoyed seeing SCO in the "Patent Arena of Death"?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: We need to change patent law

      I wonder why they don't just make patents nontransferrable. So they can ONLY stay with their inventors (they can still be licensed, as that's only a temporary permit) and become immediately void and public domain upon death/dissolution. That would instantly make patents worthless as assets and severely curtail patent trolling since they would have to actually invent in order to obtain a patent.

  5. eldakka Silver badge

    From the article:

    ...

    let lapse a three-way patent sharing agreement that had been in place since 2001.

    ...

    "We have 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," said ASML CEO Peter Wennink.

    "Unfortunately, Nikon has never seriously participated in negotiations.

    Darth Vader: I am altering the deal. Pray I don't alter it any further.

    Sounds to me like there was a deal from 2001 until recently. And that it's ASML that wants to change the terms of the deal in its favour for any renewals going forward. So based on just this article, I'm not sure who the bad guy (ASML or Nikon) is here.

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