Arm lawsuit throws a wrench in Qualcomm’s custom-SoC plans
Arm lawsuit throws a wrench in Qualcomm’s custom-SoC plans

The conflict stems from Qualcomm's acquisition of Nuvia and its custom designs

The rise of smartphones has really driven the development of mobile-first processors, and we're increasingly seeing this kind of silicon replace older architectures, like Apple's been doing with its M1 chips in laptops and desktop computers, alike. This trend has not escaped Qualcomm's attention, and last year we learned about its plans to acquire chip-designer Nuvia, tapping into the company's expertise in developing custom cores to help give it a leg up over Arm's reference designs and improve upon its own custom efforts. While that sounded all sorts of promising for Qualcomm, apparently the deal has ruffled a few feathers back at Arm, and this week the company filed a lawsuit in response to the Nuvia acquisition.

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Nuvia was already an Arm licensee, as is Qualcomm, and while that might sound like any information shared between them should be on the up-and-up, Arm believes that the lateral transfer without its involvement and consent constitutes a breach of license. In response, Arm has filed this suit in an attempt to force Qualcomm to destroy some of the Nuvia IP developed under that license.

OK, so some big companies are butting heads — what does this mean for smartphones? Is there a risk of Android hardware innovation drying up, while Apple keeps making impressive SoCs of its own?

According to Anshel Sag, Principal Analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, while it's possible this suit could push back our ability to access advanced chip designs, it's likely we'll see these companies come to some sort of agreement that allows development to continue:

Ultimately, if Nuvia has a truly competitive Arm design and Arm is trying to quash that, it can impact consumers negatively, but I believe that Qualcomm will push forward and continue to try to resolve this before it actually makes it to court.

While it would be great if everyone could shake hands and make nice, we also know how petty big companies can act when they don't get what they want — just look at the utter mess of things that's become of Google's conflict with Sonos. For the sake of our future phones, here's hoping this suit plays our very differently.

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