Rejuvenating Moore’s Law?

Grid on a microchip
Photo by Chris Reid (Unsplash)

Tiffany WangTiffany Wang is an IPilogue Writer, Intellectual Property Journal Editor, and a 2L JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.

 

A new breakthrough in microchip production could rejuvenate Gordon Moore’s famous law of electronics. Moore’s Law suggests that computer processing power undergoes an exponential increase every few years.

ASML, a Dutch company, pioneered an extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography machine capable of churning out microchips with unprecedented levels of precision. In their August 20 press release, the company indicated that its projects will expand computation power from lithography to optical metrology and e-beam inspection. This technology allows ASML to create chips as they move to 10 nanometer (nm) node and smaller.

EUV lithography minimizes the wavelength of UV light used in technological devices, reducing the size of microchip features while simultaneously boosting their performance. ASML’s aluminum-based machine forms a frame to hold its mask or reticule which then moves with nanometer levels of precision to control an extremely narrow beam of UV light. The ultra-precise light enables the machine to etch features in computer chips only a few atoms wide.  

Given microchips’ status in the geopolitical contest between China and America, ASML’s technology carries significant weight. In fact, Washington has already successfully pressured ASML to decline sales to Beijing. Following Trump, President Biden has demonstrated no signs of reversing this stance.

Does preventing the sale of the $150-million machine give the American economy a long-term advantage in the technological cold war? Perhaps not.

For one, ASML’s EUV lithography system mostly produces microprocessors less than 10 nm—these microchips account for 17 percent of the entire chip market. Chips of 10 nm and above represent the dominant market share. Meanwhile, the Sino-American semiconductor industry accounts for approximately $80 to $100 billion in sales and 125,000 jobs in America. It may be dangerous for Washington to lose sight of the forest for the trees.

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