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

Begun, the immersion lithography wars have

Updated 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 ASML and Zeiss plan to file both on their own and jointly, accuse Nikon of infringing on "more than ten" patents they hold in areas including both lithography and digital cameras.

They also plan to file infringement suits against Nikon in the US.

The litigation comes after the three companies, who supply chipmakers with the imaging and manufacturing equipment needed to print chips via immersion lithography, let lapse a three-way patent sharing agreement that had been in place since 2001.

Nikon escalated the patent wranglings earlier this week when it announced it was filing suit in three countries (the Netherlands, Germany, and Japan) for using its patented tech without a license.

"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. 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."

All three cases will, most likely, never make it to a jury verdict. ASML, Nikon, and Zeiss would all benefit from inking a new patent-sharing deal, and the semiconductor companies that purchase their products would likely strong-arm the trio into making peace rather than face the prospect of having their manufacturing operations disrupted. ®

Updated to add

A Nikon spokesman has been in touch to say: "ASML and Zeiss’s retaliatory lawsuits are a predictable litigation tactic. 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. Instead of resorting to retaliatory litigation tactics, ASML should accept that it cannot use our patented technology without proper authorization.”

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