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ASML, Nikon Patent Spat Escalates

The ongoing patent litigation between ASM Lithography and Nikon Corp. escalated Tuesday with ASML slapping a $95 million lawsuit in a Japan court, accusing Nikon of patent infringement and antitrust violations.

The patent squabble between ASML and Nikon have already engaged the attention of courtrooms across the U.S and now ASML has moved to Tokyo to ask for an injunction against Nikon to block the manufacture and sale of lithography systems that allegedly infringe of its patent covering wafer handling and moving wafers through the lithography system.

It is the third complaint ASML has filed against Nikon in the past five months for patents involving lithography equipment, which is used to print circuits on silicon wafers that become semiconductors or chips.

A California court ruled in July that patent infringement claims by ASML against Nikon could proceed. That case goes to trial in 2004.

"ASML prefers to fight and win in the marketplace, not in the courtroom. However, Nikon has chosen to litigate rather than compete," said ASML chief executive Doug Dunn. "Their unjust claim to our intellectual property will be vigorously contested."

The Veldhoven, Netherlands-based ASML competes directly with Nikon in the market for computer chip machinery and industry watchers say the patent tiff is a small part of the bigger issue of securing business from Intel .

Intel, the world's largest chip maker, is a Nikon investor and customer and ASML said Nikon's decision to pursue litigation was part of a plan to block it from getting Intel's business.

The latest twist in the dispute comes on the heels of a move by Nikon to prevent ASML from shipping certain tools to the U.S by alleging patent infringement. Nikon has filed a complaint to International Trade Commission (ITC).

An ITC hearing on that complaint is scheduled to begin in Washington D.C. on September 4.