On Monday this week Nikon initiated legal action against the Dutch company ASML Holding NV, which is one of the market leaders in the field of semiconductor lithography machines. Germany's Carl Zeiss AG is ASML's optical supplier. Nikon said both companies were using its lithography technology without permission and that it was seeking damages and to prevent ASML and Zeiss from selling the technology.

Nikon and ASML have contested IP rights for more than fifteen years, as ASML has come to dominate several aspects of the market for semiconductor manufacturing equipment previously divided up primarily between Nikon and Canon.

In first statements both companies called Nikon's legal action unfounded and categorically denied any infringements. A spokesperson for ASML said the company had repeatedly attempted to negotiate an extension of a cross-license agreement with Nikon.

Now ASML and Carl Zeiss have teamed up to counter-sue Nikon and are both filing legal claims against Nikon for the infringement of more than 10 patents. Peter Wennink, ASML President and Chief Executive Officer, said the following in the company's issued statement:

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. 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.

Both ASML and Carl Zeiss have issued press releases on the matter. It seems this is a legal dispute that could go on for quite some time, and not the first one involving these three parties either. According to Nikon, ASML and Carl Zeiss paid it $87 million and $58 million respectively in 2004. We'll keep you updated on any future developments.