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Qualcomm bought “the best CPU team on the market,” but now Arm is suing

Arm sued Qualcomm and Nuvia, a startup acquired by the chipmaker in 2021, alleging that the companies infringed on licenses to use Arm’s processor designs and architecture (Via). Reuters) Arm’s argument was that because it was under new ownership, the licenses it had granted to Nuvia prior to its acquisition were invalid. If Arm wins its suit, Qualcomm would be forced to destroy any work it did with certain licenses in question — a significant setback to its ambitions to build desktop and server chips using Nuvia’s technology.

Qualcomm hasn’t been quiet about its goals or the role the acquisition of Nuvia will play in them. Earlier this year, its CEO Cristiano Amon said to the edge: “As soon as I was named CEO, I bought a company called Nuvia because I wanted to have the best CPU team in the market.” He said “You should expect Qualcomm to take a leadership position in performance. We have to implement it. Our first product will be a prototype next year. It is going to be commercial in 2023. We are public about this and people can measure it.

According to Arm’s complaint, which you can read in full below, in 2019, it granted licenses both to use its “off-the-shelf” processor designs and also “substantially” granted the startup the ability to build its own designs using Arm architecture. Critical and personalized support for its work to develop server-grade processors”. Arm makes money from licensing fees, as well as royalties from products sold using its technology, such as Nvidia’s computing devices with Arm chips or MacBooks and iPhones that use Apple silicon. (Nuvia was founded by engineers who previously worked on the A-series chips found in iPhones and iPads).

The problems apparently started when Qualcomm bought Nuvia for $1.4 billion. According to the complaint, Arm told Qualcomm it could not use Nuvia’s licenses without Arm’s permission after the company indicated it planned to use the startup’s technology in several products. Arm’s attorneys said they spent “more than a year” negotiating a deal for Qualcomm’s use of Nuvia’s licenses.

Those efforts apparently failed — Arm canceled the licenses in February 2022, saying it couldn’t use designs made with Qualcomm. However, the company suspects that Qualcomm has continued to design chips with licenses and plans to sell them.

In a statement to to the edge, Qualcomm’s general counsel Ann Chaplin said “Arm has no rights, contractual or otherwise, to interfere with Qualcomm or NUVIA’s inventions.” “Arm’s complaint ignores the fact that Qualcomm has broad, well-established license rights to cover its custom-designed CPUs, and we believe those rights will be upheld,” she said.

There are reports that Qualcomm is shopping around for server processors to companies like Amazon. Although the company has its own Arm licenses unrelated to Nuvia (which was building laptop chips before buying the company), Bloomberg The company specifically said earlier this month that it was “seeking customers for a product stemming from last year’s acquisition of chip startup Nuvia.”

Here is the full complaint filed by Arm:

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