Changing the licensing model, it can affect Google Tensor

Arm and Qualcomm are currently embroiled in a dispute over the latter’s acquisition of a chip company called Nuvia and subsequent work on new desktop (and server) chips. This lawsuit reveals that Arm is apparently changing its licensing terms and business model so that what makes Google’s Pixel Tensor chip unique, and Samsung’s work on AMD GPUs may not be possible in the future.

As explained by SemiAnalysis, Qualcomm filed a counterclaim revealing these new details on October 26. The section on Arm’s new business model begins on page 75:

As early as at least October 2022, ARM falsely stated to one or more Qualcomm’s original equipment manufacturer (“OEM”) customers that unless they accept a new direct license from ARM for which they pay royalties based on sales of OEM products, they cannot from acquiring ARM-compatible chips from 2025 onwards.

Qualcomm also claims that Arm has “threatened at least one OEM” with the possibility of being “excluded from the market” by being unable to “obtain any ARM-compatible chips from Qualcomm or any other supplier.”

Besides switching to a direct device maker/OEM licensing model that excludes Qualcomm and other semiconductor companies by not licensing CPUs (for example, Cortex-X1), Arm reportedly told OEMs that it “requires licensees to obtain the Others (notably ARM’s GPU and NPU technology) are only from ARM.” Especially:

To apply more pressure, ARM has also stated that Qualcomm and other semiconductor manufacturers will also not be able to provide OEM customers with other SoCs (such as graphics processing units (“GPUs”), neural processing units (“NPUs”), and signal processors). image (“ISP”)), because ARM plans to link the licensing of these components to that of the device maker’s CPU.

SemiAnalysis interpreted this to mean that “Arm effectively aggregates its other IP address with that of the CPU in a form that can be accepted or left” which could prevent non-Arm Mali GPUs, such as Samsung working on GPUs AMD for Exynos or Qualcomm Adreno. In Google’s case, this arm change could block the inclusion of Tensor Processing Units (TPUs) — dedicated NPUs — responsible for powering and accelerating machine learning features, such as camera and audio processing, in future Tensor chips. If that happens, Google could theoretically revert back to the Pixel Visual/Neural Core model with a separate coprocessor for the camera and other ML tasks. However, this approach would not be integral and something the company has purposely abandoned in favor of Tensor.

Qualcomm argues that Arm cannot change its existing license for several more years and that it “has no right to solicit additional royalties from Qualcomm customers.”

It’s important to note that Arm has not publicly announced this new licensing model, and no further reports about these changes have surfaced. The only information about the change comes from the Qualcomm file. Another dimension to this is that Qualcomm says it didn’t tell Arm about its “new business model that requires direct licensing with OEMs,” or this Arm:

  • “Intends to discontinue licensing CPU technology as a standalone license.”
  • “CPU technology will no longer be licensed to semiconductor companies”
  • “It will require licensees to acquire other technologies (notably ARM’s GPU and NPU technology) only from ARM.

It is also possible that some aspects of the new licensing model will allow device makers to negotiate the inclusion of custom components.

Arm says in a statement to Fierce Electronics on Friday that Qualcomm’s allegations are “full of inaccurate information” and that its response is forthcoming.

It may take years to resolve this issue if there is no settlement.

Thank you Vince

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