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Merck sells unit to BASF

The world's largest chemical company bought the electronic chemicals business of one of the next-largest companies. Merck sold its EC unit to BASF for Euro 270 million; the group—which offers a wide range of ultrapure process chemicals and analytical services—had sales of Euro 155 million in the first nine months of 2004. The companies say that the 600 or so workers employed by the Merck operation will be transferred to the new parent. The deal includes Merck's management, technology, and production sites and distribution centers in Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, China, Germany, and The Netherlands. The companies say they will jointly manage the business in the Taiwanese market during a transition period that will run no later than to the end of 2005. Also, the employees working in Merck's Darmstadt, Germany, plant will remain with the company and perform manufacturing for BASF for the next three years.

Honeywell opens new plant

In a move to significantly increase its microelectronic chemicals production capacity, Honeywell Electronic Materials has opened a new manufacturing facility in Chandler, AZ. The 40,000-sq-ft plant will boost the company's capabilities in both straight and customized wet-etch, cleaning, wafer-thinning, and other semiconductor process chemicals, with purity levels down to the parts-per-trillion regime. Construction of the new facility was begun as part of the former GEM Microelectronic Materials joint venture between Honeywell and Mitsubishi; Honeywell bought out Mitsubishi's 40% stake in GEM in November 2004 to take sole ownership.

DPI adds to Singapore house

To meet growing regional demand, DuPont Photomasks has increased capacity by about 25% at its five-year-old photomask production fab in Singapore. The company has added an advanced laser pattern generator line as well as inspection and support equipment. The expansion came as part of its previously announced capital expenditures in fiscal year 2005 and bolsters the Singapore facility's position as one of the largest mask houses in Southeast Asia. In a statement accompanying the announcement, STMicroelectronics vp and general manager Jeffrey See said DPI "is as determined as we are to reduce cycle times, improve yields, and speed time to market.... This capacity expansion confirms their commitment to helping us meet the market and technology demands now and in the future."

SMIC, TSMC settle

In a major resolution of patent and trade-secret litigation, SMIC has agreed to pay TSMC $175 million in installments over six years. The two parties also agreed to cross license to each other's patent portfolio through December 2010. The agreement provides for the dismissal of all pending legal actions without prejudice between the two companies in U.S. and Taiwanese courts and before the U.S. International Trade Commission. As part of the deal, TSMC pledges not to sue the Chinese foundry company for itemized acts of trade secret misappropriation as alleged in the complaints, although the settlement does not grant a license to SMIC to use any of the Taiwanese foundry's trade secrets. The patent cross-license and settlement agreement can be terminated by TSMC on a breach by SMIC, which would result in the reinstitution of the legal proceedings and acceleration of the outstanding payments under the settlement agreement. (See the January/February 2005 issue's Editor's Page for more details on the dispute.)

MKS grants Philips license

Philips Advanced Metrology Systems has signed an exclusive, long-term licensing agreement with MKS Instruments for use of its proprietary high-speed infrared thin-film metrology technology. Philips, which will incorporate MKS's model-based advanced process control approach into its existing Series 2000 and 3000 fully automated tool platforms, says the first market for the IR technique will be on-line metrology in high-volume DRAM manufacturing. The company also plans to develop a series of new thin-film products employing the MKS technology.

Irish firm scores funds

Straatum Processware has received $5.65 million in third-round venture funding from lead investor Vision Capital, existing investor ACT Venture Capital, and new investor Intel Capital. The Dublin, Ireland–based supplier (formerly known as Scientific Systems) of real-time fault detection and classification (FDC) software will use the monies to increase its worldwide market share though continuing technology development, expansion of its sales force, and enhancement of its customer service and support capabilities. "Real-time solutions such as Straatum's, involving advanced process controls and FDC, play an important role in correcting errors and reducing equipment downtime," says Damien Callaghan, Intel Capital's strategic investment manager.

Picogiga pumps up HEMTs

In work conducted with TriQuint Semiconductor's R&D group, Picogiga has helped develop what it calls the world's most powerful silicon-based aluminum–gallium nitride/gallium nitride (AlGaN/GaN) high-electron-mobility transistors (HEMTs). The supplier, a division of the Soitec Group, used its proprietary molecular-beam epitaxy process to grow the compounds, then provided the structures to TriQuint. Using AlGaN/GaN heterostructures and 0.3-µm-length gates to fabricate the devices on Picogiga's silicon-based GaN epi material, the chipmaker's research facility reported the industry's highest power density to date. The silicon-based transistor-continuous wave reached an output power density of 7 W/mm at 10 GHz without external device cooling.

"Thanks to improved material growth by Picogiga and TriQuint's optimized process, we achieved high breakdown voltages and good isolation for these devices," notes Deep Dumka, senior research engineer at the chipmaker. This "allowed us to operate them at a 40-V drain bias.... This suggests that GaN-on-silicon has evolved to a level that makes it attractive for implementation in medium- to high-power transistors." Picogiga introduced its new suite of advanced AlGaN/GaN epi layers on silicon in early 2004 and offers the product in 2-, 3-, and 4-in.-diam substrates.

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