According to a DigiTimes report today, Arm has decided to continue licensing chip IP to China-based customers. The vendor is said to have carefully analyzed the potential legal issues it could face from the U.S.-China trade war.
The primary legal defense on which Arm is betting is that is that its chip design patents -- whether we’re talking about the Armv8 instruction set architecture (ISA) or even the upcoming (and yet to be announced) Armv9 ISA -- are built on UK technology.
Allen Wu, Arm’s executive chairman and CEO of Arm Technology in China, reportedly said during the Arm Tech Symposia Beijing 2019 that the company has over 200 “cooperation partners” in China. He added that the Chinese shipments of Arm-based chips have already surpassed 16 billion units. Furthermore, 95% of chips currently being developed in China use the Arm ISA.
Arm's IP Products Group (IPG) president Rene Haas previously stated that the company will continue to provide IP licenses to Huawei and HiSilicon Technologies, two of its largest long-time Chinese customers.
As Huawei had already purchased the Armv8 license by the time the trade war started, the company is now free to build new chip designs on top of it. The same is true for other chip designs Huawei licensed from Arm (Cortex-A53, etc.)
However, it's been less clear whether or not Huawei will continue to receive licenses for brand-new Arm chip designs. Based on today's news, it seems Arm will indeed continue to grant licenses for these new chip designs to Huawei and other Chinese companies.
Arm’s decision to support Chinese customers may also have something to do with the company not wanting the open source RISC-V ISA to get any sort of footholding in China while the trade conflict continues.
Some large companies such as Nvidia, Western Digital and even Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba have all invested significant resources into their own home-grown RISC-V chips. Others may want to follow suit.