back to article As Arm plays chicken with Qualcomm, both have a lot to lose

When Arm made the bold move to sue Qualcomm last year, the British chip designer set itself on a collision course with one of its largest partners. The legal battle risks dealing significant damage to both companies — unless they decide to reach a settlement before things get too ugly. In its lawsuit filed against Qualcomm …

  1. Ace2 Silver badge

    "I think Apple is the biggest indirect beneficiary of this”

    Not sure I agree with that. If Qualy comes out with a performant ARM-based PC, it would validate Apple’s strategy, and make consumers *and software vendors* more comfortable with the idea of moving away from x86-64.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      My car analogy for this is that Qualcomm are trying to walk into a Mercedes dealership and purchase a cheap A-series and then complaining when the dealer won't let them drive off with a top of the line S-series because Qualcomm claim to have owned one before.

      I.e. can Qualcomm pay lower per SOC than they would otherwise have to for the feature set they are using.

      Apple is paying for the premium ARM IP - if Qualcomm win this case, Apple benefit from being able to avoid those premiums without all the legal unpleasantness.

      To put the per SOC costs into perspective, it is likely an ARM licensing cost of 1-2c per $5-10 SOC versus 10c per $25 SOC (numbers approximate as the source is my posterior based on rumoured costs)

      1. 3arn0wl

        There's only 1 Mercedes Benz...

        ... a 40 year old model that has been well looked after and upgraded from time to time.

        This is about the rental company wanting to charge different prices for the use of it.

        1. In Like Flynt

          Re: There's only 1 Mercedes Benz...

          First off, I have no feelings one way or the other towards either company here. I'm sure they both have their good points, and their greedy corporate bloodsucking bad points.

          However, I seem to recall reading in a previous Reg article that Nuvia's original contract very specifically mentioned that their Arm license did not transfer in the case of an ownership change. I have no idea if that was Nuvia-specific, or how Arm generally worded all their license contracts. If that's what the contract that Nuvia agreed to says, then either Qualcomm really eff'd up by not doing their due diligence, or they just said eff-it and went full speed ahead thinking they'd just deal with any fallout later. As a former co-worker used to say, better to ask for forgiveness than permission. Except Arm said hang on a minute, and decided to play hardball. Qualcomm trying to paint Arm as the bad guys seems to me to be nothing more than them standing around saying 'move along, nothing to see here' while a raging house fire burns behind them.

  2. StrangerHereMyself Silver badge


    "While the RISC-V ecosystem isn't nearly as mature as Arm's,"

    I doubt it. RISC-V support is quickly reaching parity with ARM and could actually leap it in a couple of years.

    ARM is digging its own grave with this lawsuit. Win or lose this case will only accelerate migration to RISC-V. What are these guys at SoftBank smoking? They're slaughtering the Golden Goose and tossing the Golden Eggs into the trashcan.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Mature

      RISC-V is an instruction set, not a CPU complex.

      CPUs that support it are currently single core microcontrollers, not multicore "application" processors.

      The thing that has held back Arm based PCs is the fact that they're all custom, there's no way to discover what's attached to the CPU. RISC-V being an instruction set alone makes that problem even worse.

      CPUs using RISC-V are even more custom - as is common for microcontrollers.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Mature

        I also predict that hardware people will extend RISC V implementations in a proprietary way in attempts to get a performance / market advantage.

        This may lead to fragmentation that holds RISC V back, or if one comes to dominate then it will surpass ARM but put us back to square one with the proprietary ownership.

        1. Tom 7

          Re: Mature

          How can proprietary designs be included in the OPEN RISK V standards?

          1. Spazturtle Silver badge

            Re: Mature

            Because there is no requirement to make your extensions open. Only the very base specification is open.

      2. 3arn0wl

        Re: Mature

        There are multicore RISC-V CPUs - T-Head's TH1520 is the one that readily springs to mind.

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          Re: Mature

          Wasn't aware of that one, thanks.

          Though it's described as having "more than 50 new instructions layered on top" so the prediction above of a myriad of incompatible proprietary extensions has already come to pass.

          1. 3arn0wl

            Re: Mature

            Well it only needs RV64GC in order to run a Linux OS (the RISC-V Foundation does have Standards), which it will do with more grace than on a RaspberryPi 4, when it comes out on a Sipeed board in a few weeks time.


  3. potato_chips

    Two big companies?

    Despite the fact that Arm is everywhere, Arm is nowhere near as big as qualcomm. Qualcomm dwarfs Arm in terms of number of employees and revenues. This really is a case of a big thug pushing around smaller supplier because they think they can get away with it for all the reasons you cited in the article.

    Arm cannot afford not to fight back as if it doesn't it effectively sends the message to all it's partners that they don't need to take their licensing agreements seriously. What would that mean for Arm's future revenues, IPO prospects?

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Two big companies?

      On the other hand, if they don't fight back, it sends the message to their partners that they don't need to take their licence agreements seriously.

      Screwed if they win, screwed if they lose...

  4. pimppetgaeghsr

    My money is on ARM coming out of this bout better off than qualcomm, they win the battle but I doubt they win the war. The company has fallen apart under Softbank and RISC-V has just completely swallowed a lot of their M-class business which makes a lot of their licensing and royalty revenue. They cannot afford to lose smartphones or servers to other peoples implementations.

  5. 3arn0wl


    Thank you for this piece : excellent analysis.

  6. Chris Coles

    Might it help if one party, or the other; purchased some old Telecom IP?

    Just a thought?

  7. heyrick Silver badge

    You're forgetting this article

    A company that is starting to invest in RISC-V with knowledge of the innards and workings of ARM processors, what could go wrong?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Generally disagree with the analysis

    1. Qualcomm would not have to destroy their chips - they could sign a new licence as originally requested.

    2. Arm have to enforce their existing licence deals, even if they may not want to or particularly benefit for a specific case, because enforcement is at the heart of their business model and any failure to do so can weaken their position everywhere else.

  9. DannyH246

    This is a bit rich coming from Qualcomm. Didn't they argue for exactly ARM's position in their spat with with Apple in regard to 5G modems. i.e. Apple is much bigger and can therefore afford to pay more for the 5G modems?

    From a legal perspective I can only see ARM's winning this.

  10. systemBuilder22

    Quite frankly, ARM has been slacking for over 10 years. Their slacking makes Intel look positively HYPERACTIVE !! They have slacked off so badly, it forced both Apple & Qualcomm to take out architecture licenses & design their chips in-house, skipping the ARM designs. The one design that Qualcomm took - the A72 - almost destroyed qualcomm, that 64-bit chip was so horribly inefficient that Q's Snapdragon 810 was a total failure in 2015 in the marketplace. Most of the ARM chips being made today use 6-year old technology. Look at anything from Raspberry Pi. Those micro circuit boards take gobs of power and run very very sloooowwwwwwllllly. Compare the benchmarks of Raspberry Pi #4 devices against any phone. It's competitive with a phone that's 6-years old, that is all.

    Now after relaxing - "resting and vesting" as we call it in the tech industry - ARM has decided to make its next round of money with Lawyers. Well guess what? Qualcomm has the BEST lawyers in the industry, they sent their wireless systems engineers to law school to gain their degrees! I was there at Qualcomm when they put out the call to grow a new class of mutant engineer-lawyer!!

    Arm is doomed.

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      "Look at anything from Raspberry Pi. Those micro circuit boards take gobs of power and run very very sloooowwwwwwllllly."

      Do you not understand that the Pi devices use older processors in order to help keep the prices down?

      "Compare the benchmarks of Raspberry Pi #4 devices against any phone."

      Top end Pi, about €100.

      Top end smartphone, ten times that.

      I don't know about you, but I'd be a bit pissed if I splurged a grand on some new shiny that could be matched in capabilities by a dev board with a double digit price tag...

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