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Arm files breach of licence lawsuit against Qualcomm

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The British chipmaker owned by SoftBank is seeking an injunction that would require Qualcomm to destroy CPU designs developed under licence agreements with Nuvia.

Arm has sued Qualcomm and its subsidiary, Nuvia - which the company acquired last year in a $1.4bn (£1.2bn) deal - accusing both organisations of breach of licence agreements and trademark infringements.

If successful, the lawsuit could unwind one of Qualcomm's largest strategic moves of the last few years, in which the company aimed to broaden its portfolio beyond the smartphone sector and develop more powerful chips that could be used in laptops and servers for data centres. 

The British company's complaint centres around Nuvia's use of Arm's licences, which the organisation argues can't be transferred over to Qualcomm without its permission. Moreover, Arm has also accused Qualcomm of continuing to use its CPU designs in its products after its licences expired in March 2022. 

“Qualcomm has breached the terms of the Arm licence agreement by continuing development under the terminated licences," Arm said in a statement. "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.”

Arm is requesting that Qualcomm and Nuvia destroy "any Arm-based technology developed under the licences", and provide an unspecified amount in damages.  

Qualcomm general counsel Ann Chaplin responded by saying: "Arm’s lawsuit marks an unfortunate departure from its longstanding, successful relationship with 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 licence rights covering its custom-designed CPU’s, and we are confident those rights will be affirmed.”

Arm has been one of Qualcomm’s most important technology partners over the last few years, relying on the British company's technology ever since it stopped designing its own custom computing cores. Earlier this year, it was reported that Qualcomm was interested in acquiring Arm, after its takeover by Nvidia was rejected by UK regulators. 

However, recently, there have been increasing reforms of a fallout between the two firms. According to Reuters, sources inside Qualcomm have privately complained that Arm’s pace of innovation is slackening, causing Qualcomm’s chips to fall behind Apple’s processors in performance.

The acquisition of Nuvia was seen by experts as part of Qualcomm's strategy to reduce its reliance on the Arm technology. While most of the previous Qualcomm chips have used computing cores licensed directly from Arm, Nuvia’s cores use Arm’s underlying architecture but are custom designs. This move towards more customised designs follows Apple's example - which dropped Intel's chip technology to design its own - and could lower some licensing costs. 

A source close to Arm told Reuters that its licences with Qualcomm were not in dispute and that only technology developed under Nuvia’s licences was being contested in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit has been filed in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware.  

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