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Arm Sues Qualcomm and Nuvia for Breaking License Agreement (Updated)

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Update 09/01/2022 5:37 pm PT

Qualcomm has issued a statement regarding the lawsuit filed by Arm against Qualcomm and Nuvia. The company believes that it has Technology License Agreements (TLA) and Architecture License Agreements (ALA) with Arm fully covering Nuvia-developed Phoenix core and other technologies.

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

Original Article

Arm on Wednesday said it had filed a lawsuit against Qualcomm and Nuvia for breach of license agreements and trademark infringement. The CPU architecture developer wants to destroy Nuvia Phoenix core design, as well as fair compensation for the usage of its trademark.

Arm granted Nuvia a Technology License Agreement (TLA) and Architecture License Agreement (ALA) in Fall 2019, letting the company modify its off-the-shelf cores (TLA) as well as design custom cores based on Arm’s select architectures (ALA). However, these licenses were granted based on certain terms and could not be transferred to Qualcomm without Arm’s consent. Furthermore, Qualcomm’s own ALA and TLA Arm licenses do not cover products featuring Arm-based technologies developed by third parties under different Arm licenses, such as Nuvia’s custom Phoenix cores described by the company in mid-2020.

As it turns out, Qualcomm transferred Nuvia’s Arm licenses to a newly formed entity after it purchased the company last March without Arm’s consent, which Arm says is a standard restriction under Arm’s license agreements. Since the companies could not come to terms, Arm terminated Nuvia’s licenses in March 2022. Instead of getting a new license, Nuvia and Qualcomm continued to develop processors based on the Phoenix core, which is a breach of license agreements, according to Arm. Furthermore, since Nuvia and Qualcomm continued to use Arm’s trademark when talking about Nuvia’s upcoming processors, they also used it illegally.

To protect its legal rights, Arm filed a lawsuit against Qualcomm Inc. and its subsidiaries Nuvia and Qualcomm in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware for breaching license agreements and illegally using Arm’s trademark. Arm demands Qualcomm to destroy the Nuvia Phoenix design and fair compensation for the trademark infringement.

“Because Qualcomm attempted to transfer Nuvia licenses without Arm’s consent, which is a standard restriction under Arm’s license agreements, Nuvia’s licenses terminated in March 2022,” a statement by Arm reads. “Before and after that date, Arm made multiple good faith efforts to seek a resolution. In contrast, Qualcomm has breached the terms of the Arm license agreement by continuing development under the terminated licenses. Arm was left with no choice other than to bring this claim against Qualcomm and Nuvia to protect our IP, our business, and to ensure customers are able to access valid Arm-based products.” 

Nuvia was established by Gerard Williams, a former Apple chief processor architect, in Fall 2019 in a bid to develop datacenter-oriented system-on-chips (SoCs) based on a highly-custom Arm ISA. Apple sued Williams in late 2019 claiming that he used knowledge about Apple’s forthcoming chips illegally. Nuvia’s Phoenix design has never seen the light of day, but eventually the company got acquired by Qualcomm in a bid to use its designs in its upcoming processors for client PCs. At Qualcomm, Nuvia-based SoCs were delayed for a number of times and currently the company expects to start their sampling in late 2023 or early 2024. This did not stop the company from announcing that Nuvia’s designs will also be used for datacenter-oriented processors eventually. 

Qualcomm and Nuvia yet have to respond to Arm’s allegations.

Anton Shilov
Freelance News Writer

Anton Shilov is a Freelance News Writer at Tom’s Hardware US. Over the past couple of decades, he has covered everything from CPUs and GPUs to supercomputers and from modern process technologies and latest fab tools to high-tech industry trends.

  • suryasans
    Qualcomm should use x86-64 ISA for its upcoming SoCs since AMD64 patents have been expired. It's highly likely a very respected company like Qualcomm will get a comprehensive cross lisensing agreement from both Intel and AMD without paying expensive royalties like what has been happened to ARM architectural licensees.
    Reply
  • watzupken
    Looks like Qualcomm is walking on thin ice for their ambition to release their desktop class ARM SOC.
    Reply
  • christopher.andrew.carr
    suryasans said:
    Qualcomm should use x86-64 ISA for its upcoming SoCs since AMD64 patents have been expired. It's highly likely a very respected company like Qualcomm will get a comprehensive cross lisensing agreement from both Intel and AMD without paying expensive royalties like what has been happened to ARM architectural licensees.

    In that case they would not be able to get the performance/power usage which is the entire purpose of their new SoC.

    I imagine they will come to some arrangement with ARM.

    High-performance RISC-V laptops will be nice, some day.
    Reply
  • TerryLaze
    suryasans said:
    Qualcomm should use x86-64 ISA for its upcoming SoCs since AMD64 patents have been expired. It's highly likely a very respected company like Qualcomm will get a comprehensive cross lisensing agreement from both Intel and AMD without paying expensive royalties like what has been happened to ARM architectural licensees.
    LOL in what world do you live in?!
    Intel is never going to give away any of their IP to anybody,
    and AMD can't afford to have another competitor period.

    Building a CPU based solely on expired patents is as lucrative as it sounds, you will be spending countless amounts of money to develop something that stopped being relevant decades ago.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    Wow, and I thought Apple would be the one to take them down.

    Anyway, I highly doubt this will derail Qualcomm/Nuvia. They have too much at stake and ARM knows it. It's just an extortion play, and a dangerous one at that. ARM needs to pad its revenues in preparation for its upcoming IPO, but if they're too aggressive about this sort of thing, it could put off other licensees.

    I don't have one iota of pity for Qualcomm. I haven't followed their various legal issues, over the years, but I gather they're the aggressor in more than 50% of the cases. I think the ones ultimately at fault are the Wall St. firms pushing Qualcomm to monetize every last cent out of their IP. That greed permeated its way into Qualcomm's corporate culture, causing them to underinvest in their own design teams, which is why they had to go out and buy someone like Nuvia to once again have a competitive core design.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    TerryLaze said:
    LOL in what world do you live in?!
    You missed the most obvious problem with that idea, which is that Intel already tried using x86 for phones (Qualcomm's main business), and it failed spectacularly.
    Reply
  • renz496
    suryasans said:
    Qualcomm should use x86-64 ISA for its upcoming SoCs since AMD64 patents have been expired. It's highly likely a very respected company like Qualcomm will get a comprehensive cross lisensing agreement from both Intel and AMD without paying expensive royalties like what has been happened to ARM architectural licensees.

    Lol if that's the case nvidia already have their x86 CPU right now. Intel sour the cross licensing deal they had with nvidia in 2004 out of the fear nvidia will make their own x86 CPU. On the surface it is about the chipset nvidia make for intel cpu but the settlement in 2011 confirms about intel fear about nvidia making x86 cpu. Also intel most definitely not forgetting the anti competitive thing Qualcomm did with their "Snapdragon package" on mobile market before which in the end billions that intel spend to enter that market just go up in the flames. Intel for their part has been doing everything in their power to not make another x86 player enter the market
    Reply
  • renz496
    bit_user said:
    You missed the most obvious problem with that idea, which is that Intel already tried using x86 for phones (Qualcomm's main business), and it failed spectacularly.

    And intel failed on mobile (smartphones) mainly because of Qualcomm not so much because of ARM is better than intel x86.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    renz496 said:
    And intel failed on mobile (smartphones) mainly because of Qualcomm not so much because of ARM is better than intel x86.
    Is that why Intel's SoCs had so few takers?

    Look, it's no secret that x86 just doesn't scale down well to low power. Apart from the phone market, Intel also tried to tackle the IoT market with its Edison product line. That didn't last long, either.
    Reply
  • watzupken
    bit_user said:
    Wow, and I thought Apple would be the one to take them down.

    Anyway, I highly doubt this will derail Qualcomm/Nuvia. They have too much at stake and ARM knows it. It's just an extortion play, and a dangerous one at that. ARM needs to pad its revenues in preparation for its upcoming IPO, but if they're too aggressive about this sort of thing, it could put off other licensees.

    I don't have one iota of pity for Qualcomm. I haven't followed their various legal issues, over the years, but I gather they're the aggressor in more than 50% of the cases. I think the ones ultimately at fault are the Wall St. firms pushing Qualcomm to monetize every last cent out of their IP. That greed permeated its way into Qualcomm's corporate culture, causing them to underinvest in their own design teams, which is why they had to go out and buy someone like Nuvia to once again have a competitive core design.
    Considering that Qualcomm have deliberately delay and buying time, instead of working something out with ARM, I am pretty sure they will play the same game in the courts. There is a lot of stake for Qualcomm to just destroy what the Nuvia team were working on. At the same time, I feel they are unsure of the success of the product, and so would make sense for them to drag it out to see if it is worth paying.
    Reply