In an unexpected move, Apple has signed a fresh license agreement with Hertfordshire-based semiconductor company Imagination Technologies Inc., granting it access to a “wider range of Imagination’s intellectual property” two years after telling the company that it would stop using its products in a blow that sent shares plummeting.
The mobile GPU specialist sells license rights to graphics technologies, AI cores and connectivity IP spanning RF, baseband and software. Apple has been pushing throughout 2019 to bring such technologies under closer control; subsuming part of fellow British chip firm Dialog Semiconductor in April 2019, to agreeing a deal for Intel’s mobile modem business in a $1 billion transaction inked in late July 2019.
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Imagination Technologies, which was bought by China’s Canyon Bridge Capital Partners in September 2017 for £500 million, was the the UK’s tenth most active patent applicant in 2018, with 64 European patent applications; ahead of similar technology companies such as Dyson Technology with 13, and Arm with 14.
Today’s note did not specify the IP Apple gains access to under the fresh agreement, saying simply that it has “replaced the multi-year, multi-use license agreement with Apple… with a new multi-year license agreement under which Apple has access to a wider range of Imagination’s intellectual property in exchange for license fees.”
See also: Xilinx: “Try Our Free FPGA Programming Software Platform, It’s Easy, Promise!”
Bloomberg cites Apple dropping Imagination GPUs in its iPhones and iPads in favour of internal chip designs starting with the iPhone X in 2017 and the iPad Pro in 2018. Imagination’s latest major release came in early December 2019 in the form of a tenth generation iteration of its PowerVR graphics architecture, the IMG A-Series.
Boasting that the product was the “fastest GPU IP ever released” Imagination said its flagship variant would return 2.0 TFLOPS, 64 Gpixels and 8 TOPS of AI performance.
Apple clearly still sees value in the relationship: building chip IP is notoriously challenging. As Arm’s CEO Simon Segars put it an event attended by Computer Business Review last year: “It’s highly unlikely that any OEM’s going to start building all the chips they could possibly want: it’s not for everyone, there’s a lot of cost involved.”