back to article Qualcomm: Arm threatens to end CPU licensing, charge device makers instead

Qualcomm has hit back at Arm with explosive allegations that the British chip designer has threatened to phase out CPU design licenses for semiconductor companies and instead charge device makers royalties for using Arm-compliant processors. These claims were made in Qualcomm's amended response to Arm's lawsuit against the US …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bye bye ARM

    If that is true, hopefully that will accelerate the eventual switch to RISC-V.

    ARM deserves to die for such anti-competitive practices.

    1. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Re: Bye bye ARM

      You realise that you are hating on ARM because of some totally unsubstantiated claims by a company who is in court with ARM right now? Didn't it occur to you that just because Qualcomm makes some outrageous claims it doesn't matter that these claims are true? And maybe you should learn the meaning of the word anti-competitive?

      1. 3arn0wl Bronze badge

        Cause for concern

        I note that Arm have said that Qualcomm's rebuttal is "riddled with inaccuracies", but they haven't actually denied any of these claims.

        Have there been letters to OEMs detailing changes in contractual arrangements from 2025? Suggesting that Qualcomm will be out of the ARM-designing business by then? And if so, which company or companies? It's vital that the veracity of these assertions is probed thoroughly, as they have vast industry-wide ramifications.

        At the very least, this is cause for concern for ALL chip design companies, fabricating facilities, OEMs, and the consumer who, if this does come about, will be saddled with less-performant kit. (And obviously, that's what Qualcomm's lawyers designed it to do.)

        Arm is undeniably behaving in an authoritarian manner. They seem to think that everything which is created using the ARM ISA belongs to them, and is theirs to control. For that reason alone, design companies and OEMs would be wise to seek other alternatives.

        1. juice

          Re: Cause for concern

          > I note that Arm have said that Qualcomm's rebuttal is "riddled with inaccuracies", but they haven't actually denied any of these claims.

          > Arm is undeniably behaving in an authoritarian manner

          Or... Arm is in the middle of a legal battle, and has asked its lawyers to take a very detailed and careful look at things before putting out any sort of response, which will probably have to go all the way to the board of directors for signoff before publication.

          The things Qualcomm are claiming are the sort of thing which could destroy Arm as a company. They're not going to reply piecemeal to them.

          Equally, Qualcomm has literally spent decades playing dirty tricks with it's patent warchest. So I'm surprised that anyone's willing to jump in on their side without any external verification.

          1. 3arn0wl Bronze badge

            Re: Cause for concern

            I agree that this looks to be an increasingly bitter dispute that could prove to be an existential threat to either company (and possibly take others in collateral damage too).

            I also agree that Qualcomm's unproven allegations seem preposterous, which is why I suggested that their veracity needed to investigated.

            There seems to be a lot of disparaging of Qualcomm, and of Qualcomm's lawyers in the comments here. Surely though, it would be ridiculous to have made this rebuttal if there were not some truth in it. It would be tantamount to treating the judiciary with contempt.

            I will be interested to hear Arm's complete denial. But I'd suggest, if they couldn't produce an unequivocal denial straight away, then Qualcomm does have a point.

            1. juice

              Re: Cause for concern

              > But I'd suggest, if they couldn't produce an unequivocal denial straight away, then Qualcomm does have a point.

              Good luck finding anyone in the middle of a multi-billion pound lawsuit willing to instantly issue an unequivocal denial. Barring Elon Musk and a recent ex-president of the USA, obviously.

              > There seems to be a lot of disparaging of Qualcomm, and of Qualcomm's lawyers in the comments here

              It sounds like you're not familiar with Qualcomm, and their historical business model. This may help to explain things:

              https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/es/IP_18_421

              Qualcomm illegally shut out rivals from the market for LTE baseband chipsets for over five years, thereby cementing its market dominance. Qualcomm paid billions of US Dollars to a key customer, Apple, so that it would not buy from rivals. These payments were not just reductions in price – they were made on the condition that Apple would exclusively use Qualcomm's baseband chipsets in all its iPhones and iPads.

              This meant that no rival could effectively challenge Qualcomm in this market, no matter how good their products were

              Qualcomm has spent decades litigating rivals out of existence and barring or bribing its customers from using other companies technologies. Even Apple - despite Qualcomm's bribes - ended up suing them; the only reason Apple decided to go for a settlement with Qualcomm is that Intel abandoned the sector, leaving Qualcomm as a defacto monopoly with whom Apple had to return to.

              In addition, Qualcomm is currently valued at about $133 billion; ARM was valued at $80 billion when Softbank was trying to flog them off to Nvidia, though Bloomberg puts their actual value at arount $25-$35 billion, given their annual revenues of $2.5 billion.

              Which means that Qualcomm is around four times as large as ARM, and their lawyers have decades of experience in tangling their opposition up in costly legalise.

              Whichever way you cut it, Qualcomm are very much not the underdogs here, and anyone trying to do business with them is well advised to very carefully read any agreements, and to count all of their fingers both before and after meeting them.

              1. 3arn0wl Bronze badge

                Re: Cause for concern

                The past behaviour of Qualcomm - or Arm for that matter - isn't relevant. Neither is the size or the influence of the companies. This is purely about licences (and perhaps intellectual property).

                Qualcomm are alleging that Arm are intending to change the way they do business. That's got to have been a decision made by Rene Haas. Why would that be a difficult thing to admit or deny?

                Arm saying nothing will lead people to draw their own conclusions.

                1. Lorribot

                  Re: Cause for concern

                  If Arm where to choose to change its licensing model in 3 years time, what relevance does that have on whether they or Qualcomm have broken the existing licencing agreement or not?

                  It is all typical smoke and mirrors in a US courtroom to distract the court from what is in front of them, which is a simple contract dispute.

                2. doublelayer Silver badge

                  Re: Cause for concern

                  "Qualcomm are alleging that Arm are intending to change the way they do business. That's got to have been a decision made by Rene Haas. Why would that be a difficult thing to admit or deny?"

                  Maybe because they're big complex contracts tailored to the specific parties each time. They probably change them often in negotiations whenever they expire or need adjustment because a signatory wants to do something the contract didn't cover. If ARM made a statement like "Yes, we are going to change the contracts, but not like this", someone would be there to argue that they're clearly planning to do exactly that. If they say "No, we're not going to modify the contracts in that way", then when they make some other alteration, people would accuse them of the same thing. They have to respond quite specifically to the things they're accused of, and since their response is to a document submitted as part of a legal case they're in, they're not likely to be quick and careless with that response.

    2. john.w

      Re: Bye bye ARM

      Qualcomm just does not like others doing to it what it likes doing to others, ten fold.

    3. Trotts36

      Re: Bye bye ARM

      You really believe Qualcomm ??! One of the most predative, underhand, poisonous, lying piece of shit companies in the world ?!

      Pure speculation and no doubt designed to damage ARMs reputation. Infact I’d be surprised if ARM doesn’t slap them with slander.

  2. Richard149

    Non-transferable license ?

    It sounds like Nuvia had a design license from ARM. When Nuvia was bought by Qualcomm, ARM is claiming that the design license was not transferable (standard clause) and therefore Qualcomm does not have a design license which it thought it acquired from Nuvia (oops).

    If this dispute is clear-cut either way it will be settled and all reporting is posturing by both sides.

    1. VoiceOfTruth Silver badge

      Re: Non-transferable license ?

      Arm is not an American company. It's chances of an impartial hearing in a US court is near to zero.

      1. NoneSuch Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Non-transferable license ?

        At least the lawyers will get richer. So silver lining after all!

      2. IvorTE

        Re: Non-transferable license ?

        Why is Arm described as a British company. It is owned by the Japanese with most of the management team are in either California or Texas!

    2. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Non-transferable license ?

      Arm says Nuvia's architectural license was non-transferable without Arm's permission (and quite likely renegotiation). Qualcomm argued back that Nuvia's architectural license largely overlaps Qualcomm's own license with Arm, anyway. Largely but not fully, crucially.

      I've heard that Qualcomm already went through this with Arm when Q bought CSR in 2015. CSR had an Arm license that Qualcomm had to ask for, and got, permission to continue using and its derived technologies. Now this time, Qualcomm thinks it's OK to use Nuvia's license as it has done so and any complaints from Arm are just about greed and bullying.

      C.

    3. jollyboyspecial Bronze badge

      Re: Non-transferable license ?

      If one business buys another business outright then the licence isn't transferring at all. The licence would not transfer to another owner, because the owner would still exist as a subsidiary of the larger company.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Non-transferable license ?

        That's part of the problem. Qualcomm didn't isolate Nuvia as a subsidiary but integrated them into the rest of Qualcomm's design business, trying to apply their license to the larger organization or to apply their existing license to the Nuvia designs. That does count as a transfer, so if the license requires negotiation, ARM has a chance of winning that case. I don't know the contracts, so a judge will eventually make the final decision. Qualcomm might have escaped such a requirement if they kept Nuvia as a separate entity which didn't share licenses or designs, but that's not efficient when you already have designs going on elsewhere which could benefit from cross-pollination.

    4. john.w

      Re: Non-transferable license ?

      Nearly as embarrassing as VW buying Rolls Royce cars without the licence to use the Rolls Royce name on cars.

      1. BrownishMonstr

        Re: Non-transferable license ?

        Is this because Rolls Royce and Bentley were one and the same?

        1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

          Re: Non-transferable license ?

          There are some urban myths surrounding the deal, but in fact VW knew what they were getting. Regardless of the nametag, BMW had the ability to fuck the new owner of RR because they were a critical supplier with no long-term contractual obligation to continue supply.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rolls-Royce_Motors#Sale_to_Volkswagen

          https://europe.autonews.com/article/19980803/ANE/808030820/vw-shares-prize-with-bmw-rolls-royce-bentley-to-split

          1. john.w

            Re: Non-transferable license ?

            The links do give some background but no evidence that VW knew they were not getting the RR name when the deal closed. It was a few months later that a deal was done with BMW to continue to supply engines for both marques and acquire the RR name in 2003.

            1. Zippy´s Sausage Factory

              Re: Non-transferable license ?

              Used to work at RRMC, they still licence the name from RR plc. They have to be very careful with their usage of it, if I recall correctly. That said, it's about ten years since I was there so things may have changed.

            2. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

              Re: Non-transferable license ?

              Yes, you can google up more details yourself if you're actually interested. I just gave enough to make it clear that it's largely an urban myth. The engine supply thing is key, and everyone knew it up front. The name licensing thing was a detail in comparison, and VW were well aware they had to do a deal for that separately.

        2. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

        Re: Non-transferable license ?

        That's not actually what happened. VW knew exactly what they were buying.

  3. Detective Emil

    This is all very well,and good, but …

    … what's it got to do with the current contractual issue?

    If you've got a weak case, bluster.

  4. martinusher Silver badge

    ARM isn't the only game in town

    Its easy to get into the mindset that there are really only two processor families out there worth noting, the x86 in whatever incarnation its in and ARM in whatever the latest version is. There are other contenders, and not just RISC-V. ESP32 is a contender that's easily as powerful, processor for processor, as an ARM, for example. So messing with royalty structures really is playing with fire -- ARM swept the field by being priced just right, expensive enough to generate decent revenue but cheap enough that its too expensive to replace.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: ARM isn't the only game in town

      The ESP32 is a SoC, not an architecture. Even if you meant Tensilica Xtensa, the architecture used in that SoC's CPU, it's not in the same realm as ARM or RISC-V. It's also not trying to be. Xtensa is designed for microcontrollers, especially DSP units, and it does very well there. It could attack the ARM or RISC-V microcontrollers used in embedded systems or as components in hardware, and there are certain types of chips where Xtensa is already commonly used.

      As the main processor for phones or computers, though, not happening. The architecture is from 2004 and limited to 32-bit instructions. There's a reason all the main ISAs used for central processors are 64-bit now, and people aren't likely to go back to something restricted. RISC-V already supports that, but Xtensa would need a seventh release to add it, and that would be an ISA redesign. Since they haven't released a redesign in eighteen years and they would have to make other changes to switch from something optimized for signal processing to something designed for fast general computing, it's unlikely they will want to give up their market in a speculative attempt to enter one with entrenched competitors and where even the nascent RISC-V would have an advantage on them.

  5. Wolfclaw

    Arm trying to kill its own cash flow, RISC-V waiting in the wings to take over.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Arm's future plans are irrelevant; Qualcomm didn't have legal rights to use the technology as they've been using it. I know from personal experience that technology licenses are rarely transferrable in a merger.

    1. James Anderson

      However taking your biggest most successful customer to court is just dumb.

      Perhaps arm thinks it’s got got apple on board it’s home free. But how long before Apple commissions a RISC-V chip?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Tell it to the judge.

      2. gnasher729 Silver badge

        Apple has a perpetual, fully paid, architectural license. They can do anything they want with their ARM chips without paying ARM another penny. They have no reason to switch to risc-v until someone builds risc-v that beats silicone. And that’s far far off.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "until someone builds risc-v that beats silicone."

          Is that the breast thing though ?

          1. gnasher729 Silver badge

            You are right to post anonymously.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              I guess that seals it then ... ?

          2. David 132 Silver badge
            Coat

            They'll use it to build random access mammary chips first.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              They'll milk it for all it's worth.

              1. DJV Silver badge

                These puns are udderly terrible, please nip(ple) it in the bud right now!

                1. adam 40 Silver badge

                  On Page 3 of the Sun Sparcstation manual it has a nice diagram of a pair of big endians.

                2. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  "please nip(ple) it in the bud right now!"

                  Yeah, only a real boob would keep making puns about this stuff.

      3. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
        Boffin

        re: how long before Apple commissions a RISC-V chip?

        Given El-Fruity's history, they probably have IOS etc already running on a RISC-V based SOC and will know how to move away from being 100% Arm to 0% Arm within 2 years.

        1. Scene it all

          Re: re: how long before Apple commissions a RISC-V chip?

          They would be fools not to have a back room project somewhere doing exactly that. And whether you like Apple products or not, they are not fools.

  7. James O'Shea Silver badge

    Heh

    I suspect ARM has a White Knight in the background: Apple. If Apple decides to buy ARM after all (and if Apple can get past the regulators) then Qualcomm is facing its worst nightmare: Apple's lawyers, locked, cocked, and ready to rock. Apple may just let the stock price fall a little (say, on news of problems in court) and then buy. And unleash the Attack Lawyers.

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Heh

      Apple has no reason to want to own ARM. They have a perpetual license, and do their own designs. The only thing they get from ARM is extensions to the ISA, which they can do themselves if they really wanted to / had to.

      Apple is immune to any changes in ownership of ARM, or even its total demise. Owning it would bring them nothing except a lot of legal headaches.

      1. Zippy´s Sausage Factory
        Windows

        Re: Heh

        Owning it would bring them a lot of licence revenue. And control of the platform. Both potentially useful at a time when other system builders seem to be relying on ARM and even Micros~1 are eyeing running Losedows on it...

        1. DS999 Silver badge

          Re: Heh

          ARM makes a pittance. Apple makes several times as much money in a day as ARM makes all year. There are tons of profitable companies Apple could buy that won't bring them all the legal headaches. One of the reasons Apple has been so successful is they have a very narrow target for the businesses they want to be in - and licensing or any type of B to B has never been one of them.

          The tech world is replete with tales of companies making big acquisitions outside their core competence and losing billions. Apple has been very smart to avoid making any acquisition that doesn't fit in with their consumer focused business lines, and no big splashy acquisitions at all, ever. Their M&A department is very boring and almost never generates news, and Apple's shareholders like it that way.

          Control of the platform is worth zero to them, because from their perspective they already control their ARM platform. They don't have to care what others do with it.

  8. Jim-234

    ARM is going ahead and doing themselves what all the fear mongers claimed NVIDIA was going to do and why they couldn't be allowed to buy ARM.

    I bet lots of folks are going to be thinking an NVIDIA owned ARM would have been the lesser of 2 evils as compared to the current ARM path of "well we are a monopoly on mobile chipsets so now it's time to wring our customer dry".

  9. 3arn0wl Bronze badge

    SiFive announces its P670 and P470 Processors

    "The P670 and P470 are specifically designed for, and capable of handling the most demanding workloads for wearables and other advanced consumer applications [Including mobiles]. These new products offer powerful performance and compute density for companies looking to upgrade from legacy ISAs," - Chris Jones, SiFive.

    But what is really interesting is that the article* quotes Ziad Asghar, Vice President, Product Management- Snapdragon Technologies and Roadmap at Qualcomm, as saying: "We are excited to see RISC-V solutions for wearable and consumer devices becoming a reality, and we are looking at possibilities of integrating SiFive's latest products into Snapdragon platforms."

    * https://www.benzinga.com/pressreleases/22/11/b29494695/sifives-new-high-performance-processors-offer-a-significant-upgrade-for-wearable-and-consumer-prod

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    For those unfamiliar with Qualcomm lawyers..

    Qualcomm lawyers make statement that X is true. Not only is X no true but the people that the Qualcomm lawyers claim said X not only never said X, but never even thought X while on a drunken bender after a particularly successful "conference" in Las Vegas.

    So again one of those cases where you know that X is not true because of exactly which very sleazy lawyers said it was true

    Saying that, I would not believe a word SoftBank says either. But in a SoftBank v Qualcomm - He said, she said - it's Qualcomm lawyers for the Big Lie, every time.

    1. Tom Womack

      Re: For those unfamiliar with Qualcomm lawyers..

      In particular, Qualcomm are accusing Arm of wanting to move to a per-device licensing model *like Qualcomm's*.

      The 'no Arm extra IP blocks without an Arm CPU' part doesn't seem completely unreasonable, though I think Intel did do an x86-with-Mali SoC at one point - if Arm are willing to miss out on Mali revenue because they are worried about RISCV+Mali SoCs that's up to them, The claim that they might be moving to 'no non-Arm IP blocks on a chip with an Arm CPU' is obviously complete nonsense since Arm don't make memory or PCIe controllers.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: For those unfamiliar with Qualcomm lawyers....knuckle draggers..

        Qualcomm legal are not the brightest folk. Which accounts for their aggressiveness and outright nasty stupidity. I remember once having to sign a 3 page (badly drafted) NDA for a single conference call where we learned nothing new to what we had already worked out from the publicly available material. And their engineers would not answer even simple questions because of what seemed like their fear of legal. And this with a company that Qualcomm had made a non-trivial investment in.

        To anyone familiar with the implicit NDA's of the Valley, we both know this is Proprietary IP we are talking about here, dont play silly buggers, the Qualcomm people always came over as the biggest bunch of clueless bozos. Barely one step up from the West Texas courts i.p patent troll scam artists.

  11. flayman

    "This would be an incredible transformation for Softbank-owned Arm."

    Softbank-owned tells me all I need to know. Not much better than IP trolls. This would be a very dumb move and would probably see an exodus of Arm's best customers.

  12. Richard 12 Silver badge
    Megaphone

    Qualcomm are yelling like hell.

    The most probable reason for this statement by Qualcomm is that they know they haven't got a leg to stand on.

    If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.

    1. Ace2 Silver badge

      Re: Qualcomm are yelling like hell.

      This isn’t Rudy Giuliani at Four Seasons Total Landscaping, though. These are actual licensed corporate lawyers. Would they really say, “ARM told our partner company X” without being able to back it up?

      I’m first in line to argue that lawyers are nasty bits of work, but they do have professional standards.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: Qualcomm are yelling like hell.

        It'd probably get tossed out instantly in court, but that's not the point.

        The purpose is of course to try to force the other party to settle, by way of bad publicity. As a tactic, it has even been known to work - look at many of the comments here.

        It's also been known to backfire spectacularly, as it does tend to show that your hand is rather poor and can easily cross the line into libel.

  13. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Tread lightly

    Tread lightly, ARM. RISC-V is out, anyone who is running linux kernel + stuff on top of it may be able to get everything ported from ARM to RISC-V in a day. Of course redesiging a board or SoC to replace arm with risc-v is a pain, they'd much rather keep using Arm. But if they become unfriendly, there is not that strong of vendor lock-in.

    Android, there too, it's portable, if qualcomm had to make risc-v based qualcomm chips, it'll take more than a day (I assume) but android can be ported over.

  14. John Savard

    Put an End to the Shenanigans

    I should think that the point ought to be very clear.

    Nuvia paid engineers to develop designs.

    Nuvia paid ARM for their license.

    For Qualcomm to have to pay again is clearly unfair. And the best thing the courts could do is simply strip ARM Holdings of its proprietary rights to the architecture. They would still continue to own the IP for the ARM cores they design, but anyone else should just be able to design and sell an ARM core as if it was RISC-V.

    Of course, the same thing should have been done long ago for x86, so that all chip-making companies - like Motorola, Texas Instruments, Fairchild - would have had equal access to the giant PC market.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Put an End to the Shenanigans

      You can think that, but it won't be right. Contracts are complex things. Signing a contract that has a non-transferable clause means that, if you want to transfer it, you're going to pay some more. Double payment isn't in the law as forbidden, especially as any lawyer could easily argue that it's not double payment, Nuvia paid for the restricted license and Qualcomm has to pay to remove those restrictions. Similarly, if the judge decides that ARM's in the wrong, the judgement would be that Qualcomm gets to use their license and likely that ARM has to pay for Qualcomm's legal bills, not that ARM's IP is stripped from them and their business model is now effectively illegal. Courts and contract law don't work like that and they never will, no matter how much you might like the outcomes if they were.

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