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Huawei’s EUV Scanner Patent Suggests China’s Sub-7nm Chips

Huawei has filed for a patent covering EUV scanners.

UDN reports that Huawei has filed a patent application for an extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography scanner. If the company constructs such a scanner and achieves adequate productivity, uptime, and yields, Chinese chipmakers will be able to manufacture chips utilizing sub-7nm-class technologies. When is the only question?

In Mid-November, Huawei applied for a patent covering a EUV scanner and its essential components with the State Intellectual Property Office. MyDrivers reports that the patent application number is 202110524685X.

The patent application appears to cover all essential components of a EUV scanner, including a 13.5 nm EUV light generator (light source), a set of reflecting mirrors, the lithography system, and ‘control management technologies’ (we assume this is how they refer to metrology).

Filing a patent is not the same as being able to construct a EUV scanner, which is a highly complex machine with numerous cutting-edge components that must operate flawlessly and for extended periods. In addition, even with a EUV tool at their disposal, chipmakers still need to determine the optimal pellicles for masks, resists, and a variety of other elements required for high-volume production.

A 0.33 numerical aperture EUV scanner is the pinnacle of modern semiconductor production equipment. After over ten years of development and with financial support from Intel, Samsung, and TSMC, only ASML was able to create such a device, despite the efforts of numerous other companies. Currently, Samsung, SK Hynix, and TSMC use EUV tools from ASML, whereas Intel has yet to begin high-volume chip production with these tools.

Only Intel, Micron, Samsung, SK Hynix, and TSMC currently employ or intend to employ EUV scanners. In addition, only these five companies have developed (or intend to develop) process technologies advanced enough to make use of EUV scanners. Due to the Wassenaar arrangement, SMIC, based in China, was unable to acquire a EUV tool already acquired to create its EUV-based fabrication process. Therefore, it is evident that potential demand for EUV scanners exists in China, and Huawei was eager to meet it.

Huawei, a world-class high-tech conglomerate with approximately $100 billion in annual revenue, pursues various objectives and develops a vast array of technologies. The company’s semiconductor production goals are well-known, and they include both chip production and wafer fab equipment construction. As evidenced by the company’s patent application for a EUV scanner, Huawei’s WFE initiatives are progressing quite well.

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