Imagination Technologies Releases Apple GPU Loss Statement

Subject: Graphics Cards, Mobile | April 3, 2017 - 06:18 PM |
Tagged: apple, Imagination Technologies, PowerVR

This morning, Imagination Technologies Group released a press statement announcing that Apple Inc. intends to phase out their technology in 15 to 24 months. Imagination has doubts that Apple could have circumvented every piece of intellectual property, and they have requested proof from Apple that their new solution avoids all patents, trade secrets, and so forth. According to Imagination’s statement, Apple has, thus far, not provided that proof, and they don’t believe Apple’s claims.

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On the one hand, it makes sense that Apple would not divulge their own trade secrets to their current-partner, soon-competitor until it’s necessary for them to do so. On the other hand, GPUs, based on previous stories, like the Intel / NVIDIA cross-license six years ago, are still a legal minefield for new players in the industry.

So, in short, Apple says they don’t need Imagination anymore, but Imagination calls bull.

From the financial side of things, Apple is a gigantic chunk of Imagination’s revenue. For the year ending on April 30th, 2016, Apple contributed about £60.7 million GBP (~$75 million USD in today’s currency) to Imagination Technology’s revenue. Over that same period, Imagination Technology’s entire revenue was £120.0 million GBP ($149.8 million USD in today’s currency).

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To see how losing essentially half of your revenue can damage a company, I’ve included a screenshot of their current stock price (via Google Finance... and I apologize for the tall shot). It must be a bit scary to do business with Apple, given how much revenue they can add and subtract on a moment’s notice. I’m reminded of the iPhone 6 sapphire glass issue, where GT Advanced Technologies took on a half-billion dollars of debt to create sapphire for Apple, only to end up rejected in the end. In that case, though, Apple agreed to absolve the company of its remaining debt after GT liquidated its equipment.

As for Apple’s new GPU? It will be interesting to see how it turns out. Apple already has their own low-level graphics API, Metal, so they might have a lot to gain, although some macOS and iOS applications use OpenGL and OpenGL ES.

We’ll find out in less than two years.

April 3, 2017 | 06:30 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

AnandTech really has a good analysis of this story and It would be great to Know Just what GPU Maker, Imagination Technologies, AMD, or Nvidia/Others, has the most important GPU IP that others are licensing. Intel designed its own In-House GPU but had to license some critical basic GPU IP from Nvidia to allow Intel to be able to legally sell its SOCs that make use of some of that critical basic GPU IP from Nvidia. And now Intel wants to License that same critical basic GPU IP from AMD, and AMD and Nvidia have a lot of shared critical basic GPU IP that is relatively the same.

So what very basic critical GPU IP will Apple still have to license from Imagination Technologies, even if Apple designs its own fully in-house GPU designs. Can Apple go to say AMD or Nvidia and get that very basic critical GPU IP licensing from another source than Imagination Technologies.

It's impossible for anyone to design a clean sheet GPU without stepping on some GPU maker's pre-existing IP and Imagination Technologies, AMD, and Nvidia, have a large chunk of the patents that that make up that critical basic GPU IP that many must license.

Scott how old are Imagination Technologies' patents already and can Apple get out from under any IP licensing if the patents have expired? Also can Apple just do what Intel has dones and License from Nvidia or AMD?

April 4, 2017 | 01:01 AM - Posted by Kwaz

They'll likely be sourcing the GPU from Qualcomm.

It's also worth noting that Anand now works for Apple as does / did Ryan. As I recall, Anand left Anandtech as his new role in media relations at Apple is a conflict of interest, while Ryan (Anandtech's current editor) also works for Apple but remained at Anandtech in a non media related position. I'm not sure what Ryan does at Apple, if anything. I believe I read somewhere that he was brought along with Anand though to a different department.

April 4, 2017 | 02:20 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I would expect there to be some licensing agreements between AMD and Qualcomm. Qualcomm's GPU was actually made by an ATI unit that AMD sold to them (ATI Imageon). Qualcomm changed the name to Adreno, which is actually an anagram of Radeon. I don't know if Apple would be satisfied with the same hardware that goes into Android phones. I would expect Apple to build their own more than anything else. They probably need some patent coverage though, and AMD could probably provide that. If Qualcomm licenses AMD patents, then Apple might have to go to AMD anyway.

April 4, 2017 | 10:24 PM - Posted by renz (not verified)

well in the first place did Qualcomm ever allows it's adreno gpu to be used in other soc outside snapdragon package? AFAIK Qualcomm is all about integration. you want qualcomm baseband? then you must get it in snapdragon package or there is no deal. that's why samsung still end up using snapdragon for their high end instead of going all exynos. some of the very early exynos actually did use baseband from qualcomm.

April 4, 2017 | 02:29 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

How does this relate to any patent questions and do you even understand IP law and the licensing of the GPU IP that is even necessary for anyone that builds their own GPUs from scratch. You can not even create a "Clean Sheet" design without violating some companies' GPU patents! And Imagination Technologies, AMD, and Nvidia hold plenty of some of that Very Basic essential GPU IP that all the others may have to license even for their Clean Sheet designs as Intel discovered when Intel went about designing its own in-house GPU designs.

Apple will still have to license some very basic essential GPU IP from Imagination Technologies, AMD, or Nvidia and most likely if Apple feels it does not need Imagination Technologies IP at all then that's a very good indication that maybe it's from Nvidia or AMD that Apple will turn for the GPU IP licensing. And this has nothing to do with Nvidia’s or AMD’s current GPU designs as Apple has its own in house GPU engineers, Apple will still have to license IP, same as Intel does, because both Apple and Intel do not have any large GPU IP patent portfolios to speak of.

Ryan Smith at AnandTech needs to do a deep dive into who owns what of that very basic essential GPU IP that everybody else has to license even for their clean sheet/in-house GPU designs so the readers can see who has the rights to that very basic essential GPU IP that everybody and their dog has to license to allow even their clean sheet/in-house GPU designs to be legally sold in the SOC/other market place.

There are a lot of very broad patents for things like unified shaders and other constructs that some company/companies own the IP/Patent rights for so there needs to be more reporting on this subject by AnandTech/others to clear up the many misunderstandings that readers are having regarding GPU IP.

"They'll likely be sourcing the GPU from Qualcomm"

Why would Apple with its own in house GPU engineers need to source a design from Qualcomm? I know that Qualcomm acquired AMD's hand-held business but did Qualcomm purchase enough of the essential mobile GPU IP from AMD. Maybe AMD only sold some older less essential GPU IP to Qualcomm. You can sale off a business/business division and still not sale of all of the Patent IP that the business/business division held.

Apple only needs to go as far as licensing any IP that it’s new in-house GPU design may in fact violate and Apple can look that up at the USPTO(United States Patent and Trademark Office). Remember Apple acquired P.A. Semiconductor and all those CPU engineers to make Apple’s custom ARMv8A ISA running CPU designs, with the Apple A7(Cyclone) being twice as wider order superscalar as any of ARM Holdings’ reference designs. Apple even beat ARM Holdings to market with the first custom ARMv8A ISA running CPU micro-architecture that made use the 32/64 bit ARMv8A ISA that was designed by ARM Holdings itself.

April 3, 2017 | 06:40 PM - Posted by willmore

Time to make some popcorn.

April 4, 2017 | 01:06 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I am kind of wondering if Apple is going to be using AMD IP or AMD chips in their products. With Apple's control over their ecosystem, they can really take advantage of AMD's upcoming technology. AMD has been working towards tighter coupling of the GPU and the CPU with HSA and other initiatives. I am wondering if Vega is going to have asynchronous compute engines with ports directly on the infinity fabric to allow communication at the same speed and latency as a remote CPU. That would allow for exceptional GPU compute abilities. It may also expand what can be compute on the GPU. It isn't worthwhile to send smaller data sets to the GPU with the current architecture. The latency is too high. I can see Apple being interested in several AMD technologies. AMD could even offer them a high end ARM processor if they wanted it.

April 5, 2017 | 11:10 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Both AMD and Nvidia never license their in-house GPU designs to others to make use of ->freely<-, they only license some very basic essential GPU IP for specific IP(Like the rights to design GPUs with unified shaders) for Intel, or others, to legally use in their own in-house GPU designs. Intel, if it uses unified shaders, then Intel has to license IP from either AMD or Nvidia/others who have patents for unified shaders.

Intel uses unified shaders(unified shaders of Intel's own design) in its in-house GPU designs and both AMD and Nvidia have patents granted for unified shaders, and other basic GPU constructs, that maybe both AMD and Nvidia have patents granted for by the USPTO for the Idea of Unified GPU shaders.

So Intel can not even legally sell its own in-house GPU designs without licensing some IP from Nvidia(Intel Currently uses Nvidia licensing for Intel's In-house design to be legal), or AMD/others.

Apple, if it does drop Imagination Technologies(IT) for IT's specific GPU core design(Which Apple currently heavily tweaks), may still have to license IT's IP(some very basic essential GPU IP licensing from IT) for Apple to be able to legally sell Apple's stated future totally In-House GPU design/s. That is Unless Apple can license some of AMD's or Nvidia's very basic essential GPU IP, just enough to make Apple's in-house GPU design legal.

So It's very hard to design a clean sheet GPU from scratch without violating some already invented(And Patented) very basic essential GPU IP from AMD, Nvidia, and Imagination Technologies/others. Do not fool yourself into thinking that AMD, Nvidia, and some others actually license their specific leading edge GPU designs.

AMD and Nvidia only license some very basic essential GPU IP for folks like Intel(Who have their own in-house GPU designs) to remain legal. Apple will be doing its own in-house design but Apple lacks the GPU patent portfolio/IP so Apple will have to license from others even for Apple's totally in-house designs.

P.S. for AMD's semi-custom Console designs AMD designs them with M$ and Sony respectively and for M$ and Sony respectively and AMD contracts with GF/Others(?) to fab these semi-custom designs. M$ and Sony do not have any rights to sale these console semi-custom APU designs to third parties. M$ and Sony can only use their respective semi-custom designs for their respective console products and M$ and Sony do not get the rights to any AMD IP used in those respective console APU designs. M$ and Sony only get the rights to any of their respective IP that M$ and Sony add to the total APU design, but AMD's CPU Core/GPU and other APU/BUS Fabric/decoder IP remains under AMD's complete control.

April 4, 2017 | 01:38 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Apple were in talks to buy Imagination, I guess those negotiations went south and this is the result.
If apple do still want the company, this reduced price per share would be nice for a hostile take over.
How do you like them apples?

April 4, 2017 | 11:02 PM - Posted by Mr.Gold (not verified)

They will do the same as they did with their CPU...

Apple owning 100% of the CPU/GPU design will allow for some unique design.

Apple might actually make a merged processor.

April 4, 2017 | 06:40 AM - Posted by sawe (not verified)

Let's hope this will drive them to release a new PC GPU, PowerVR3 would be a nice shakedown in the industry.

April 4, 2017 | 10:34 PM - Posted by renz (not verified)

that's an interesting thought but the competition on PC gpu is very fierce. it is not the same as mobile gpu business where IMG currently only supply the design with base drivers and be done with it. on pc tight relation with game developer is a must.

April 5, 2017 | 01:43 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I doubt that they could compete with AMD or Nvidia in anything but extremely power constrained devices.

April 4, 2017 | 11:17 AM - Posted by Anaynom us (not verified)

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