Apple’s Plan for In-house Mobile GPU Design Could Lead to Imagination Technologies Patent Fight

Apple dropping Imagination Technologies for its own mobile GPU chip design

It’s no secret Apple likes using its own chips in products like the iPhone and iPad, and Imagination Technologies is learning that in a painful way. Apple currently uses Imagination’s GPU chips in its mobile devices, but that’s changing within two years when they move to in house designs—and that could lead to a patent fight.

Apple dropping Imagination Technologies for its own mobile GPU chip design
Apple ditching Imagination for iPhone and iPad GPUs could lead to patent fight

According to Imagination, it’s very likely some if its technologies will be necessary for Apple to make its graphics chip design work. So far, Apple hasn’t been interested sharing technical details to prove it won’t infringe on Imagination’s patents, and that could lead to a legal battle.

The company said in a statement,

Apple has asserted that it has been working on a separate, independent graphics design in order to control its products and will be reducing its future reliance on Imagination’s technology. Apple has not presented any evidence to substantiate its assertion that it will no longer require Imagination’s technology, without violating Imagination’s patents, intellectual property and confidential information. This evidence has been requested by Imagination but Apple has declined to provide it.

That sounds a lot like legal speak for Imagination saying Apple’s own GPUs could trigger a patent infringement lawsuit. The company goes on to say, “Imagination believes that it would be extremely challenging to design a brand new GPU architecture from basics without infringing its intellectual property rights.”

Imagination’s public statement looks a lot like legal posturing, which is a pretty good indication the talks with Apple aren’t going well. If they were, the company would most likely announce its status change with Apple by saying there’s a change in major clients and might not mention Apple by name.

Instead, it looks like Apple may not be overly interested in making a licensing deal come together and is willing to go to court should Imagination file a lawsuit.

Imagination supplies chips for a long list of smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices, so it isn’t like Apple is its only revenue source. Still, it’s an excellent reminder that being an Apple parts supplier is great, all they way up until it isn’t.

3 thoughts on “Apple’s Plan for In-house Mobile GPU Design Could Lead to Imagination Technologies Patent Fight

  • @furbies: No, this is about patents. Cleanroom or not doesn’t matter. What matters is whether you use something patented by Imagination or not. The best way is to use personnel that knows all their patents and makes sure they are not used. Patents are _publicly available_. You are not only allowed, but you are supposed to look at them, and then come up with something better.

    Of course Imagination is wide off the mark – Apple _is_ using their patents today and paying for them. They want to stop using Imagination’s patents and stop paying in 15 to 24 months. I imagine it would be hard for Apple to prove that they won’t use those patents two years from now.

    @geoduck: Apple wouldn’t give anything to Imagination. They would hand things to Imagination’s lawyers, and those may pass it to some expert witnesses, and both lawyers and expert witnesses would be in trouble if any of Apple’s IP leaks.

  • Could Apple go “the clean room” route and design it’s own “GPU” using personnel that haven’t been exposed to the Imagination Technologies designs ?

    Of course, proving the staff involved in Apple’s design(s) didn’t peek at Imagination Technologies’s stuff would be a pain….

  • Isn’t it up to Imagination to prove Apple IS infringing, not for Apple to prove they are not?
    I mean in order for Apple to prove that they were not infringing, Apple would have to give all of their design data and technical specifications to Imagination.

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