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Samsung Licenses ASML's Lithography Tech

The Netherlands' ASML Holding captured a major customer for its lithography systems Thursday, with Samsung Electronics signing a global IP licensing agreement.

ASML's technology, which it said "significantly enhances the imaging performance for current and future technology generations," will be deployed at Samsung's semiconductor facilities worldwide. Samsung will license the technology through the life of the patents.

ASML's ASML Masktools subsidiary specializes in lithography, the imaging of microscopic circuits on silicon to form semiconductors. Samsung has licensed ASML Masktools' 'scattering bar' technology, a technique implemented on photomasks to improve the imaging performance on silicon wafers. ASML said the technology improves depth of focus, enlarges process latitude, and allows for better critical dimension uniformity and higher manufacturing yields.

Photomasks are high-purity quartz or glass plates which contain precision images of integrated circuits (IC). They are used as masters by chipmakers to optically transfer the images onto semiconductor wafers.

A key benefit of ASML MaskTools' technology is the larger process window provided by the scattering bars (subresolution design elements placed by ASML's MaskRigger software) on the photomask. The scattering bars act as "diffraction matching" elements on standard binary photomasks, which allow for the optimization of the total imaging process without the use of expensive alternating phase shift masks (which allow chipmakers to print lines smaller than the wavelength of light).

The technology can be implemented on many layers of the manufacturing flow, not just the gate layer. The company said this results in tight critical dimension control on all layers of circuit designs which are pushed to the limits of manufacturing. ASML said the technology becomes crucial on the 150nm generation and below, as a way to extend the life of the installed base of 248nm manufacturing equipment.

"Scattering bar technology is fast gaining mainstream status for chip manufacturing, evidenced by the growing number of companies adopting it," said Dinesh Bettadapur, president and CEO of ASML MaskTools.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.