Qualcomm sued by partner Arm over high-performance chip technology

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Arm Limited, a technology heavyweight partner of Qualcomm for years, has accused the San Diego company of violating chip architecture intellectual property licenses tied to a new line of high-performance processors for laptops, digital cars, smartphones, and smartphones. smart phones and even data center servers.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Delaware federal court, Arm is seeking the destruction of any chip technology related to the disputed licenses, as well as injunctive relief and money damages.

The legal blowout comes as Qualcomm prepares to provide samples of these faster, more energy-efficient chips to customers later this year. It’s an effort to catch up with Apple’s touted laptop and smartphone CPUs, or central processing units. CPUs handle extreme computing functions in smartphones, laptops, and other devices.

Improved CPUs are also a cornerstone of Qualcomm’s diversification strategy. The company aims to power high-performance computing in digital cockpits and advanced driver assistance systems in cars, next-generation laptops and personal computers, realistic virtual reality headsets, and edge network infrastructure.

In 2021, Qualcomm paid $1.4 billion for Nuvia to boost its CPU efforts. Founded by former Apple and Google chip designers, Nuvia worked primarily on developing energy-efficient semiconductors for data centers.

It is unclear if this legal action will delay Qualcomm’s efforts to implement these processors in the coming months.

In a statement, Arm said he made many “good faith” efforts to resolve the dispute before going to court.

“Qualcomm has breached the terms of Arm’s license agreement by continuing development under the terminated licenses,” said Phil Hughes, vice president of external communications. “Arm was left with no choice but to file this claim against Qualcomm and Nuvia to protect our intellectual property, our business, and to ensure customers can access valid Arm-based products.”

Qualcomm claims that it already has wide-ranging licenses with Arm that protect it from lawsuits.

“Arm’s lawsuit marks an unfortunate change in its long-standing and successful relationship with Qualcomm,” General Counsel Ann Chaplin said in a statement. “Arm has no right, contractual or otherwise, to attempt to interfere with Qualcomm or Nuvia innovations. Arm’s complaint ignores the fact that Qualcomm has broad and well-established license rights covering its custom-designed CPUs, and we are confident that those rights will be affirmed.”

The lawsuit is complicated. Arm is not a chipmaker. The UK-based company developed the architecture used by other semiconductor designers to map out their own chips. The company licenses its intellectual property for fees and royalties based on the number of Arm-centric chips its licensees sell.

According to the lawsuit, Nuvia received licenses in 2019 that allowed it to take parts of Arm’s architecture and customize them to make its own core designs. The agreement prohibited the transfer of these licenses without Arm’s permission.

In March 2021, Qualcomm announced that it would purchase Nuvia. But he did not inform Arm or seek permission to transfer the licenses, according to the lawsuit.

Arm says it informed Qualcomm shortly after the announcement that Nuvia could not assign its licenses as part of the deal without Arm signing on. Arm claims that he worked for more than a year to broker a deal. But in March 2022 he terminated Nuvia’s licenses.

Qualcomm maintains that it has licenses from Arm that allow it to do custom core work, though the suit contends that Qualcomm hadn’t been doing that since 2018. Instead, it relied on pre-built core designs from Arm.

“Qualcomm’s Arm licenses do not cover products based on or incorporating Arm-based technologies developed by third parties under different Arm licenses, such as the now terminated Nuvia licenses,” according to the suit.

Arm is asking the court to enforce the contract provisions and destroy any technology developed under Nuvia’s terminated licenses. It also claims trademark violations related to the use of the Arm name with technology developed by Nuvia, and is seeking a permanent injunction and triple money damages for those alleged violations, among other things.

Arm announced the lawsuit just as the markets closed on Wednesday. Qualcomm shares closed down 1 percent at $132.27 on the Nasdaq stock exchange.


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