A lawsuit exposes the chip industry’s intrigue: Why does ARM tear up Qualcomm?
At the heart of the conflict lies Nuvia, a chip startup that Qualcomm bought for $1.4 billion last year. ARM said Nuvia used ARM’s license to develop the chip design and could not transfer it to Qualcomm without consent.
Litigation over intellectual property and contracts is common in the semiconductor industry. But the lawsuit between ARM and Qualcomm is a major conflict over the battle for chip design power. This could have a major impact on chip startups and open a path for the adoption of open-source architectures that replace ARM.
In fact, ARM’s relationship with Qualcomm is not as good as it seems, they are partners, but also compete fiercely in private. The lawsuit also exposed the delicate relationship between the two companies.
partner and enemy
ARM-based chips have been growing in recent years because they are moreIntelandAMDThe x86 architecture chips produced are more energy efficient. In 2021, ARM-based chip shipments will exceed 29 billion, including AppleiPhone, Mac, andiPadmain chip used.
Companies such as Apple obtain Instruction Set Architecture (ISA) licenses from ARM and then design their own physical processor circuits to execute ISA instructions. Historically, other companies such as Qualcomm have also purchased access to complete core designs from ARM, known as Cortex cores. ARM reported $2.7 billion in licensing and royalty revenue for the company in 2021.
ARM Cortex chip
However, ARM’s architecture licensing business is in conflict with its own CPU design business, because Qualcomm and other companies that have obtained ARM architecture licenses will independently develop processors to compete with ARM’s CPU design business. For example, MediaTek uses ARM’s CPU design.
In 2020, when Nvidia announced its $40 billion acquisition of ARM, the chip industry immediately split into two camps: MediaTek, Broadcom, and Marvell, which use ARM CPU designs, supported the acquisition, while Qualcomm and Intel, which developed their own processors, opposed it. Among them, Qualcomm has the loudest opposition.
At the end of last year, ARM emphasized in a document outlining the acquisition transaction that although Qualcomm is a licensee of the ARM architecture, the company uses its own team of engineers to develop private CPU designs and does not use ARM’s CPU designs. There is direct competition between the two parties. .
“ARM’s architecture licensees, such as Qualcomm, are in direct competition with licensees such as MediaTek that use ARM’s own CPU designs. Therefore, these architecture licensees will benefit from the decline in the competitiveness of ARM designs, from ARM’s reduced Benefit from the investment of their own engineering teams. If ARM is forced to remain independent and has to scale back R&D to please the public market, they will also benefit,” ARM explained.
Ann Chaplin, Qualcomm’s general counsel, said in a statement that the dispute was a departure from the “long, successful relationship” the two sides had built. “ARM has no right to interfere with Qualcomm’s or Nuvia’s innovation, contractually or otherwise. ARM ignores the fact that Qualcomm has broad and well-established licensing rights covering its custom-designed CPUs, and we believe those rights will be affirmed. ‘ said Chaplin.
ARM said in a statement that it had “no choice but to file lawsuits against Qualcomm and Nuvia to protect our intellectual property and business, and to ensure that customers can legally use ARM-based products.”
Qualcomm’s expansion road is blocked
Qualcomm bought Nuvia because it wanted its chips to outperform off-the-shelf ARM processor designs, especially to compete with Apple’s efficient custom ARM cores. Nuvia, a startup founded by former Apple and Google engineers, was developing a server chip based on an architecturally licensed, customizable core. It also uses ARM’s core design.
Qualcomm CEO introduces Xiaolong chip
After acquiring Nuvia, Qualcomm puts Nuvia in its smartcell phoneAnd the core position of the PC strategy, using Nuvia’s core to improve the performance of PC chips, so that its notebook computer processors, which will be launched as soon as 2023, can better compete with Apple’s M-series self-developed chips.
But ARM said that although Qualcomm has an architectural license, it needs ARM’s consent to buy and use Nuvia’s custom core design. ARM has terminated Nuvia’s license in March this year after the two sides failed to communicate.
If ARM’s arguments are upheld in court, Qualcomm’s entire chip strategy could change. However, Qualcomm may have another way to go.
Karl Freund, founder and analyst at Cambrian AI Research, speculates that Qualcomm may try to use RISC-V, an open-source alternative to the ARM instruction set. ARM told regulators in December that “the momentum of RISC-V is accelerating”, with established vendors increasingly using it to replace ARM’s instruction set. A handful of startups are currently developing CPU cores based on the RISC-V architecture, but it has yet to be used in popular smartphones, which currently all use ARM-based chips.
However, ARM’s efforts to strengthen intellectual property ownership with long-term partners may prompt companies developing custom ARM cores to reconsider open-source alternatives.