The patent's assignee for patent number 8525994 is
News editors obtained the following quote from the background information supplied by the inventors: "The invention relates in general to metrology systems for measuring periodic structures such as overlay targets, and, in particular, to a metrology system employing diffracted light for detecting misalignment of such structures.
"Overlay error measurement requires specially designed marks to be strategically placed at various locations, normally in the scribe line area between dies, on the wafers for each process. The alignment of the two overlay targets from two consecutive processes is measured for a number of locations on the wafer, and the overlay error map across the wafer is analyzed to provide feedback for the alignment control of lithography steppers.
"A key process control parameter in the manufacturing of integrated circuits is the measurement of overlay target alignment between successive layers on a semiconductor wafer. If the two overlay targets are misaligned relative to each other, then the electronic devices fabricated will malfunction, and the semiconductor wafer will need to be reworked or discarded.
"Measurement of overlay misregistration between layers is being performed today with optical microscopy in different variations: brightfield, darkfield, confocal, and interference microscopy, as described in Levinson, 'Lithography Process Control,' chapter 5, SPIE Press Vol. TT28, 1999. Overlay targets may comprise fine structures on top of the wafer or etched into the surface of the wafer. For example, one overlay target may be formed by etching into the wafer, while another adjacent overlay target may be a resist layer at a higher elevation over the wafer. The target being used for this purpose is called box-in-box where the outer box, usually 10 to 30 .mu.m, represents the position of the bottom layer, while the inner box is smaller and represents the location of the upper layer. An optical microscopic image is grabbed for this target and analyzed with image processing techniques. The relative location of the two boxes represents what is called the overlay misregistration, or the overlay. The accuracy of the optical microscope is limited by the accuracy of the line profiles in the target, by aberrations in the illumination and imaging optics and by the image sampling in the camera. Such methods are complex and they require full imaging optics. Vibration isolation is also required.
"These techniques suffer from a number of drawbacks. First, the grabbed target image is highly sensitive to the optical quality of the system, which is never ideal. The optical quality of the system may produce errors in the calculation of the overlay misregistration. Second, optical imaging has a fundamental limit on resolution, which affects the accuracy of the measurement. Third, an optical microscope is a relatively bulky system. It is difficult to integrate an optical microscope into another system, such as the end of the track of a lithographic stepper system. It is desirable to develop an improved system to overcome these drawbacks."
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