Brussels, 29 September 2010
State aid: Commission approves €21.4 million public funding for Dutch company Mapper to develop new semiconductor manufacturing technology
The European Commission has authorised The Netherlands to grant €15.6 million of soft loans and a direct grant of €5.7 million to Mapper Lithography B.V, for the development of 'E-beam lithography'. E-beam technology is an innovative research path that could enable the global semiconductor industry to keep increasing the performance of microchips. The Commission found the aid to be compatible with the EU Framework for State aid for research, development and innovation (see IP/06/1600 and MEMO/06/441) because Mapper would not have been able to carry out this risky R&D-project without the aid. In particular, the aid addresses a specific failure of the private venture capital market and is limited to the necessary minimum.
Commission Vice-President in charge of competition policy Joaquín Almunia said: "Mapper's lithography project is at the heart of innovation in semiconductor manufacturing. Since high-performance semiconductors are a driver of industrial growth, overcoming the limits of current lithography will benefit the economy at large. The project also shows how R&D State-aid rules can help innovative and efficient SME's to overcome difficulties in accessing venture capital and bring ideas to the market."
Mapper is a young medium-sized enterprise that was spun off from the Technical University Delft in 2000. It is developing so-called 'maskless parallel electron beam writing' (in short: 'E-beam') technology that could be used in lithography machines. Such machines image the circuit patterns of semi-conductor chips on silicone wafers and are the centrepieces of semiconductor manufacturing.
Current lithography still relies on photo masks for that purpose. The number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit is expected to increase exponentially, doubling approximately every two years (so-called 'Moore's Law'). However, existing mask-based lithography will soon have reached its physical limits. Various technologies are currently being explored in order to overcome these limits. 'E-beam' consists in using parallel electronic beams that 'write' the blueprint of a chip on a wafer (without any mask). If successful, Mapper will thus help tackling a new miniaturisation challenge.
Part of the aid will be granted after the final approval of the Commission, whereas another part has already been granted, since late 2007, according to the project-progress milestones.
The Commission found that the private venture-capital market failed to provide sufficient financing for this risky, yet promising project. As Mapper is a single-project company and an SME, this failure is particularly pronounced. Moreover, the Dutch authorities provide just enough aid to enable Mapper to proceed with the project, and to stimulate private investments. The impact on competition is limited, given that E-beam technology as such is presently not available and that Mapper is a new entrant on the market. The Commission further established that Mapper's project is in line with European priorities, such as those defined by the European Union's R&D Framework Programmes (FP), in particular the ICT-theme thereof (see FP7 in Brief), as well with the ENIAC Joint Technology Initiative (see ENIAC-Factsheet) and the EUREKA programmes (such as CATRENE and the previous MEDEA+ ).
The Commission therefore concluded that the positive effects of the aid outweigh any potential distortion of competition.
The non-confidential version of that decision will be made available under the case number NN 39/2010 in the State Aid Register on the DG Competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of State aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the State Aid Weekly e-News.