Arm drops some up-front licensing for chip designs

semiconductors
Arm announced a new way for SoC designers to start work with Arm before they license the IP. (Getty Images)

Arm won’t require its customer-partners to license most of its technology up-front for use in designing semiconductors, the company announced Tuesday.

The new Arm Flexible Access process will allow system on chip (SoC) designers to initiate projects before they even license the IP and then pay only for what they use at production time. The company is also keeping its Arm DesignStart and Standard Licensing approaches.

No up-front licensing means Arm's 500 existing and new partners will be able to plan for growth potential in IoT, machine learning, self-driving cars and 5G, said Rene Haas, president of the intellectual property group at Arm.

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AlphalCs, Invecas and Nordic Semiconductor have already agreed to the new model and are accessing IP products, support tools and training. Partners pay a “modest” $75,000 annual entry access fee for immediate access, the company said, then pay a license fee only when they commit to manufacturing, followed by royalties on each unit shipped. The portfolio they can access includes all the essential IP tools needed for an SoC design. The theory is that partners can then evaluate or prototype with multiple IP tools before committing to licenses.

Arm Flexible Access applies to the majority of Arm-based processors within the Arm Corex-A, -R and -M families. Over the last two years, these CPUs made up 75% of all Cortex CPU licenses. The flexible access model also includes Arm Trust Zone and CryptoCell security IP, select Mali GPUs, system IP and tools and models for SoC design. Training and support services are included.

AlphaCs CEO Nagendra Nagaraja said in a blog that the new model has helped the company work on several AI projects for automotive, IoT gateways and edge computing. Arm Flexible Access “gives us [an] agile approach to IP for the first time,” he said.

The new program is open to any company of any size, said Dipti Vachani, senior vice president of automotive and IoT at Arm. “The vast majority of tech companies are experiencing some of the most challenging periods in their histories,” he said. “All semiconductor companies must plan more carefully yet simultaneously react even faster to technical and business changes…while still keeping a tight rein on costs…So we have made a bold move: Arm Flexible Access, an entirely new way of accessing our industry-leading chip technologies in a far quicker, easier and ultimately flexible way.”

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