Nikon files patent case against ASML, Carl Zeiss

Nikon Corporation said it initiated a series of legal actions in the Netherlands, Germany and Japan intended to halt infringement of its intellectual property by Dutch semiconductor lithography system manufacturer ASML Holding N.V. and its related companies and by ASML’s optical component supplier Carl Zeiss SMT GmbH.

“The basis of Nikon’s claim is that ASML and Zeiss employ Nikon’s patented technology in ASML’s lithography systems, which are used globally to manufacture semiconductors, without Nikon’s permission, thereby infringing Nikon’s patents,” said Nikon.

“Nikon has met with ASML and Zeiss with the aim of reaching a resolution of these issues, but those efforts, guided by a highly experienced mediator, have failed to produce a settlement.

“The continued unauthorized use of Nikon’s patented technology by ASML and Zeiss has given Nikon no alternative but to enforce its legal rights in the courts of law.”

Nikon said it initiated 11 patent infringement cases against ASML in the District Court of The Hague in the Netherlands and is filing patent infringement cases against ASML in Tokyo District Court in Japan and against Zeiss in Mannheim, Germany where the company manufactures optical components used in ASML’s immersion lithography systems that are the subjects of these suits.

“According to ASML’s publicly reported data for 2016, 76.3% of its sales in the year ended December 2016, or approximately €3.5 billion, was derived from immersion lithography systems sales,” said Nikon.

“Nikon believes these systems use Nikon’s patented technology. The complaints seek injunctions barring ASML’s and Zeiss’s sale and distribution of these systems, as well as damages.”

Nikon said it previously brought legal actions against ASML and Zeiss in relation to unauthorized use of its patented technology and that previous cases in the United States “were settled on terms favorable to Nikon.”

ASML said it noted the announcement by Nikon that it had filed a legal claim for alleged patent infringement against ASML in three countries.

ASML said it had not yet received notification of legal action and “categorically denies any infringement allegations.”

ASML said it believed that Nikon’s claim was without merit.

“We will defend ourselves vigorously against the allegations and we will consider all means at our disposal,” said ASML.

“As disclosed in further detail in our annual report and on Form 20-F, ASML and Nikon in 2004 concluded a patent cross-license agreement.

“Some patents were perpetually licensed; for others, the license period ended on 31 December 2009. A transitional period, during which the parties had agreed not to bring suit, ended on 31 December 2014.”

ASML CEO Peter Wennink said: “Nikon’s litigation is unfounded, unnecessary and creates uncertainty for the semiconductor industry.

“Over the past years, ASML has made repeated attempts to negotiate an extension of its cross-license agreement with Nikon.

“We are disappointed that Nikon did not make any serious efforts to negotiate and has opted for legal action instead.

“We continue to believe that a negotiated outcome would have been preferable for the industry, which thrives on innovation and collaboration.

“This sort of unnecessary patent litigation distracts from what is truly important: driving technology forward for the benefit of chip makers. We should compete in the marketplace and not in court.”