Qualcomm has dominated the smartphone chip market for years, but the company has had a tougher time breaking into the PC market. So Qualcomm acquired a startup called Nuvia last year, which was already working on processors meant to rival the chips that power Apple’s latest laptop and desktop computers.

Both Qualcomm and Nuvia make chips that use architecture developed by ARM. But there appears to be one small problem: ARM is suing Qualcomm and Nuvia, saying the companies violated licensing and trademark agreements.

image credit: Qualcomm

In a nutshell, both Qualcomm and Nuvia had been paying for licenses to use ARM designs. But ARM says that Qualcomm “attempted to transfer Nuvia licenses without ARM’s consent,” in violation of the chip designer’s license agreements. As a result, ARM says Nuvia’s licenses were terminated in March, 2022 and that the companies should have stopped developing chips under that license.

If ARM’s lawsuit is successful, the company is asking the court to issue an “injunction against trademark infringement as well as fair compensation for the trademark infringement.” But what could be even more damaging is that ARM is seeking to force Qualcomm “to destroy certain Nuvia designs.”

In other words, the lawsuit could set back Qualcomm and Nuvia’s efforts to develop laptop, desktop and server-class chips by months, if not more. And it could result in hefty fines.

Read more at Reuters and Bloomberg

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  1. This all seems a but suspicious on ARMs part with Softbank trying to IPO them and the Softbank tech investment group that purchased them bleeding cash bad. I suspect Qualcomm knows exactly that they are doing and offer plenty of fair royalty or other cash options, but ARM needs to extract some massive number out of the Nuvia buyout that makes basically no sense given Qualcomm has more or less every ARM license out there and probably didn’t need Nuvia licenses… Just the designs. The whole problem is that I doubt the Qualcomm ALA license says they can’t buy some entity like Nuvia use all their IP. To me even if Nuvia licenses die, Qualcomm ALA license NEEDS some language banning them then copying in a 3rd party design that has had its license revoked due to buyout.

    ARM is just shooting themselves in foot, win or lose.

  2. As much as I hate these frivolous laws, I believe ARM did the right thing.

    First of all, Qualcomm is huge and they take advantage of the market with bully tactics. The Nuvia cores aren’t really magic, it’s just that Qualcomm is so mismanaged and incompetent they NEEDED to buy them. Majority of their senior engineers left, and some were fired. And while we were supposed to get Nuvia Cores in Laptops around 2020, this didn’t happen, and their venture into Windows Books was blocked by Microsoft due to a Exclusivity Agreement in place by Qualcomm.

    Whilst, the decision to do this keeps ARM in control of their ecosystem and intellectual property. They’re pretty loose as it is, unlike Intel’s firm grip on x86. But more importantly it keeps pressure on all the participants to stick to the rules, and not fragment the standard into obscurity.

  3. Hasn’t Apple also got a problem with Nuvia? Weren’t they alleging that Apple designers left to sartup Nuvia with some processor designs, or something?

  4. So ARM wants to charge extra for nothing….uh huh…

    Also your last example is inaccurate ARM could give a license for free and nobody could sue them for it. Rates don’t have to be standard.

  5. Can not think of a better advert by Arm for more companies to move to RISC V. Well played Arm.

    1. Imagine if Qualcomm were to release even a mediocre RISC-V processor… That would be huge. Bring. It. On.

  6. Anyone else think this is a capricious lawsuit? When you acquire a company, all of their licenses become your licenses….and DESTROYING R&D?????

    I dunno what ARM is smoking here.

    1. Companies can issue licenses that are non-transferrable. Buying a company isn’t a loophole to accessing non-transferrable licenses that weren’t given to you.

      As silly as this lawsuit sounds, ARM is right to defend this, because it could open them up to more damaging scenarios in the future if they ignore it.

      If they allowed licenses to transfer with ownership, it prevents them from being able to control the terms of their licenses, and the costs. For all we know, Qualcomm and Nuvia had very different terms and pricing for their licenses, and ARM probably wants to revisit those terms and costs in a scenario like this. Otherwise Qualcomm could have circumvented a potential change in cost or terms that they wanted to avoid.

      It could also land ARM in lawsuits with Qualcomm’s competitors. If 5 years from now, Qualcomm finds itself in a position where they have a product that is 2x more powerful than all their ARM competitors, ARM could get sued. A company like Nvidia could sue ARM and say “we were considering a similar course as Qualcomm, but our barrier was a license policy that you waived for our competitors and not us”.

      1. So ARM wants to charge extra for nothing….uh huh…

        Also your last example is inaccurate ARM could give a license for free and nobody could sue them for it. Rates don’t have to be standard.

        1. “ARM could give a license for free and nobody could sue them for it. Rates don’t have to be standard.”
          Have you met corporate lawyers? They absolutely could sue. They could say that ARM has a monopoly position in chips of a certain nature and that differing license terms represents anticompetitive behavior. They could say that licenses were granted to create collusion leading to price fixing. Depending on the terms in their contract, they could find something they think ARM violated by giving something better to someone else and sue for breech of contract. Whether they’d win after thee years of court battles is another question, but they could find some arguments that wouldn’t be dismissed immediately.

      2. It could also land ARM in lawsuits with Qualcomm’s competitors. If 5 years from now, Qualcomm finds itself in a position where they have a product that is 2x more powerful than all their ARM competitors, ARM could get sued. A company like Nvidia could sue ARM and say “we were considering a similar course as Qualcomm, but our barrier was a license policy that you waived for our competitors and not us”.

        The issue in all of this is you have to first establish motive and evidence because fishing expeditions and conjectures will instantly get objected and will always be fruitless. So if ARM got sued by NVIDIA because of , NVIDIA has to prove the motive behind the price disparity, providing definite proof that it was purposely unfair because companies often have the freedom to subjectively set price without government intervention.

    2. Pretty much every contracts I’ve seen have an assignment clause. If one of the party gets acquired, the licenses do not automatically transfer to the acquiring company. A novation (transfer of licenses) needs the other party authorisation.