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ARM Changes Business Model – OEM Partners Must Directly License From ARM

Arm, the leading provider of processor architectures and intellectual property (IP) for mobile devices, is reportedly changing its business model and licensing terms. According to a counterclaim filed by Qualcomm, one of Arm’s major customers, Arm will no longer license its CPU cores to semiconductor companies under technology license agreements (TLAs) after 2024. Instead, Arm will only license to the device-makers themselves, such as smartphone manufacturers.

This means that device-makers will have to accept Arm’s new licensing terms, which allegedly include bundling its other IP products, such as GPUs, NPUs, and ISPs, with the CPU cores. This would prevent semiconductor companies from using their own or third-party IP for these components in their Arm-based system-on-chips (SoCs). For example, Samsung’s deal with AMD for GPU or MediaTek’s deal with Imagination for GPU would not be allowed under Arm’s new terms.

Qualcomm claims that Arm is lying to Qualcomm’s OEM partners about Qualcomm’s licensing terms and spreading misinformation about the nature of Qualcomm’s Arm licenses. Qualcomm also accuses Arm of engaging in anti-competitive behavior and attempting to disrupt Qualcomm’s business and customer relationships.

Arm has not publicly commented on these allegations or confirmed its plans to change its business model. However, some analysts speculate that Arm’s move may be influenced by its pending acquisition by Nvidia, which could raise regulatory concerns and conflicts of interest with other Arm customers.

The impact of Arm’s licensing change could be significant for the smartphone industry, as well as other sectors that rely on Arm-based chips. Some analysts suggest that the change could result in higher prices for smartphones, as device-makers would have to pay more royalties to Arm based on the sales of their products. It could also limit the innovation and differentiation of chipmakers, as they would be forced to use Arm’s IP for all components of their SoCs, instead of choosing their own or third-party solutions for GPUs, NPUs, ISPs, and other functions. This could affect the performance and features of smartphones, as well as other devices such as laptops, tablets, smart TVs, and IoT devices. Moreover, the change could create regulatory and competitive issues for Arm and its customers, especially in light of Nvidia’s pending acquisition of Arm. Some chipmakers and device-makers may consider switching to alternative architectures, such as RISC-V, which offer more flexibility and lower costs. However, this would require significant investment and time to develop compatible hardware and software ecosystems. Therefore, Arm’s licensing change could have far-reaching consequences for the entire chip industry and beyond.

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