ARM and Qualcomm are involved in a complicated legal dispute in a US district court about the licensing of intellectual property, which might have significant repercussions. According to a recent court document, ARM’s relationships with OEM partners and chipmakers may change fundamentally.
According to a document Qualcomm submitted as part of the complaint, ARM is fundamentally altering its business strategy. OEM partners building servers and PCs will have to buy licenses directly from ARM. According to SemiAnalysis, Qualcomm filed a counterclaim on October 26 that included these new facts. Beginning on page 75 is the relevant portion describing ARM’s new business plan:
At least as early as October 2022, ARM falsely stated to one or more of Qualcomm’s long-standing original equipment manufacturer (“OEM”) customers that unless they accept a new direct license from ARM on which they pay royalties based on the sales of the OEM’s products, they will be unable to obtain ARM-compliant chips from 2025 forward.”
Additionally, Qualcomm claims that ARM threatened “at least one OEM” with being “excluded from the market” by preventing them from “obtaining any ARM-compliant chips from Qualcomm or any other supplier.” ARM is said to have informed OEMs that it would “require licensees to obtain other technologies (notably ARM’s GPU and NPU technology) only from ARM” in addition to transitioning to a direct device-maker/OEM licence model that excludes Qualcomm and other semiconductor companies by no longer licencing CPUs.
To apply more pressure, ARM further stated that Qualcomm and other semiconductor manufacturers will also not be able to provide OEM customers with other components of SoCs (such as graphics processing units (“GPU”), neural processing units (“NPU”), and image signal processor (“ISP”)) because ARM plans to tie licensing of those components to the device-maker CPU license.”
SemiAnalysis predicts that this change might restrict non-ARM Mali GPUs like Samsung’s work on AMD GPUs for Exynos or Qualcomm’s Adreno by “effectively bundling its other IP with the CPU IP in a take-it-or-leave-it model.” This ARM shift may prevent Google from incorporating Tensor Processing Units (TPU), which are bespoke NPUs that operate and accelerate machine learning functions like the camera and voice processing, into future Tensor chips.
It’s significant to note that neither ARM nor any other information has officially acknowledged this new license strategy or other adjustments. The Qualcomm file is the only source of data on the change. It’s also feasible that a component of the new licensing scheme will let device manufacturers bargain for the inclusion of separate parts. ARM alleges that Qualcomm’s accusations are “riddled with inaccuracies” and that it would respond in a statement it provided to Fierce Electronics on Friday.