A fair amount of innovation in various optical and imaging technology fields comes out of the research facilities of the Nikon Corporation (NASDAQ: NINOY) of Tokyo, Japan. Nikon is outpaced by its geographical and industrial rival Canon in a few significant ways, especially in number of patent grants obtained, although some commentators are predicting that Nikon will outdo Canon in its development of video DSLR cameras. Current DSLR camera technologies available from Nikon include interchangeable lenses and offer the ability to take detailed photos captured at incredibly quick frame rates. Nikon digital camera technologies even showed that they performed well in outer space, as recent selfies taken during an October spacewalk by International Space Station astronauts will confirm.
Every now and again, the Companies We Follow series returns to check up on Nikon’s innovations, and we learned some interesting things about Nikon’s current corporate focus. According to a myriad of patent applications filed at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Nikon is serious about expanding its intellectual property holdings in the area of lithography, especially immersion lithography, for the manufacture of semiconductors and other electronics. An X-ray device which is less affected by thermal expansion and a digital bulletin board for an online electronic album service are also discussed in recently filed Nikon patent applications.
Nikon’s patent portfolio isn’t the most extensive one we feature on IPWatchdog, but it is still quite valuable. A number of immersion lithography innovations are featured in these patents and we discuss a couple of technologies designed to improve the control of fluids or vapors in use by these systems. Digital cameras and their electronic components were the feature of a smorgasbord of other patents that we came across. A couple of these protect techniques designed to increase the ease that image file data may be shared and edited by other cameras or external devices.
Nikon’s Patent Applications: Lithography Improvements for Better Electronics Manufacturing, Some Digital Camera Innovations
Many consumers are aware of Nikon as a developer and manufacturer of digital cameras, camera lenses and binoculars, but these products represent a small percentage of Nikon’s total business operations. The corporation is also responsible for the development of state-of-the-art lithography systems used in manufacturing facilities for the fabrication of semiconductors, liquid crystal display (LCD) screens and other electronics. An overwhelming majority of the patent applications recently filed by Nikon reflect a great deal of research and development in these fields on behalf of this company.
Immersion lithography, a technique used for the manufacture of integrated circuits that increases the resolution of those products, was the specific focus of many of the patent applications related to lithography which we explored today. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140253888, which is titled Liquid Jet and Recovery System for Immersion Lithography, discusses a technology for recovering liquid used for immersion lithography processes; increased resolution in electronic components is created by filling the gap between a circuit wafer and a lens with a liquid that has a high refractive index. The patent application would protect an apparatus for liquid immersion lithography that includes an opening for supplying liquid to a space and a vacuum source connectable to the opening through a flow passage. Improvements to methods of exposing light to a substrate after liquid is applied is the focus of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140253886, entitled Exposure Apparatus, Exposing Method, Device Manufacturing Method, Program, and Recording Medium. The exposure apparatus which would be protected here has a liquid immersion member comprised of movable components which are stabilized through the use of a vibration isolator. The innovation is designed to reduce defects in fabricated electronics by suppressing the vibration of movable components of an exposure apparatus. Other enhancements to light exposure tasks involved with immersion lithography procedures are described within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140240685, titled Exposure Apparatus, Exposure Method, and Method for Producing Exposure Device. The exposure apparatus of this invention has an optical member with multiple surfaces which are configured to enable the projection system of the apparatus to transmit a large-angle ray of light. The technology is designed to support the satisfactory transmission of light in a liquid immersion system for more effective methods of producing an electronic device.
Other lithography technologies which are not specifically designed for immersion lithography techniques are also featured in a couple of other patent applications which caught our eyes when we sought out Nikon’s recent innovations. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140233011, which is titled System and Method for Compensating Instability in an Autofocus System, would protect an autofocus method that involves the detection of light deflection and reflection when irradiated onto a substrate to determine height changes in the substrate. The innovation is meant to improve autofocus systems and their response to environmental changes which can reduce accuracy in lithography processes, especially those involving substrates with larger diameters of 450 millimeters or more. Another optical innovation for lithography systems is discussed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140218705, filed under the title Illumination Device. This patent application would protect an illumination device with a deflection member that can create a plurality of secondary light sources through the use of an optical integrator system. This innovation, designed specifically for use in lithography processes for producing semiconductors or liquid crystal display devices, supports the even distribution of light intensity and reduces losses in light quantity.
There were two patent applications which disclosed some interesting innovations related to Nikon’s digital imaging technologies. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140233936, which is titled Camera Accessory, Camera Body and Camera System, would protect a detachable camera accessory with multiple body contact points that are configured to permit the completion of an information communication operation with the camera. The technology is designed to enable the camera to automatically detect the engagement or disengagement of a lens barrel accessory. An intriguing website-based customer service for accessing and sharing digital images is the focus of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140297543, titled Method for Providing a Bulletin Board for Placing an Image and Method for Providing Electronic Album Service. It would protect a display method for presenting multiple images on a monitor. The display provides an electronic bulletin board for presenting images from an electronic album service which enables users to present photos to third parties or ban third parties from viewing certain images.
Finally, we wanted to take a quick look at a recent patent application filing that represents some of Nikon’s patenting activities relevant to medical technologies. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140283385, entitled X-Ray Device, X-Ray Irradiation Method, and Manufacturing Method for Structure, would protect an X-ray apparatus comprised of an X-ray source and a detector, designed to detect X-rays emitted from a source and passed through an object, are contained within an internal chamber. This invention increases the accuracy of X-ray detection by suppressing the deformation or distortion of X-ray device members caused by heat.
Issued Patents of Note: More Digital Cameras and Immersion Lithography Innovations
During 2013, Nikon earned a total of 400 U.S. patent grants from the USPTO, the 87th-highest total earned by any single global entity applying for American patents. Although this would seem to pale in comparison with the patent totals posted by other corporations covered in the Companies We Follow series, it is worth noting that Nikon maintains many valuable patents. For example, this March the company was awarded a $14.5-million lawsuit in Japanese courts as the result of a patent infringement case brought against Japanese camera producer Sigma; Nikon alleged that six of Sigma’s interchangeable lens products infringed on vibration reduction technologies protected by patents assigned to Nikon.
Digital cameras and other electronic devices used for imaging purposes were at the center of various innovations which caught our eyes recently. Issues created when viewing or editing an image through a camera when that image was captured through a second camera are targeted by the technology expressed within U.S. Patent No. 8854478, simply titled Digital Camera. The patent protects a digital camera with a communicator for transmitting information to another camera, including raw image data corresponding to an outputted image. This invention is intended to prevent issues in performing operations on a transmitted image which is of a different resolution and size than other images taken by a camera. Methods of sharing data for easier image editing operations are also discussed within U.S. Patent No. 8810679, issued under the title Electronic Camera. The camera protected by this patent includes a storage unit containing algorithms for image quality adjustment, an information acquisition unit for obtaining additional image quality adjustment algorithms and an algorithm selection unit. This technology is designed to overcome problems in sharing parameter information based on preset image correction procedures when sharing that image file for adjustment by an external device. The miniaturization of the electronic components in a digital camera is a goal of the technology protected by U.S. Patent No. 8827464, which is titled Projection Display Device, Portable Electronic Apparatus and Digital Camera. The projection display device of this invention includes a light source unit, an image forming unit, a projection lens and a total reflection prism which directs the light flux to a display area. This new camera configuration is designed to enable the use of micro-mirror devices for creating color images without increasing the size of the camera unit as a whole.
Once again, technologies involving immersion lithography techniques made up a large percentage of the innovations protected for Nikon by patents issued from the USPTO. Methods for better control of liquids used in immersion lithography to prevent contamination during manufacture of a workpiece are disclosed and protected by U.S. Patent No. 8797500, entitled Immersion Lithography Fluid Control System Changing Flow Velocity of Gas Outlets Based on Motion of a Surface. The immersion lithography apparatus protected by this patent comprised of an optical member, a surface, a gap between the optical member and surface which is filled by an immersion liquid and a fluid control device that prevents the liquid from entering an area which is outside an exposure area. The technology prevents liquid contamination, which can affect light refractions, and prevents liquid leakage. Finding solutions to issues posed by the use of liquid in immersion lithography is also the aim of the technology protected by U.S. Patent No. 8836914, which is titled Environmental System Including Vacuum Scavenge for an Immersion Lithography Apparatus. This patent protects an immersion lithography apparatus with a containment member situated directly beneath a lens and a seal member located between the lens and the containment member. The innovation prevents immersion liquid or vapor from immersion liquid from affecting the other components involved in immersion lithography techniques.
Finally, we were intrigued with a Nikon innovation meant to prevent color moires, or superimposed patterns, from forming on images captured by digital cameras. U.S. Patent No. 8804014, issued under the title Imaging Device for Reducing Color Moire, protects an imaging device with an image sensor, the sensor having many filters offering different spectral characteristics, and a computing section enabled to obtain pixel data outputted by the image sensor. The processing completed by the device in this invention prevents the formation of moires in captured images of scenes with a very low amount of light, such as pictures captured at night.