Today Imagination Technologies has announced that Apple has signed a new multi-year licensing with the company, giving the Cupertino company continued access to Imagination’s IP.

Imagination Technologies (“Imagination”) announces that it has replaced the multi-year, multi-use license agreement with Apple, first announced on February 6, 2014, 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.

The very brief and succinct press release details that the new agreement replaces the initial agreement signed in 2014. The announcement puts an end to several years of speculation as to the relationship between Imagination and Apple, as well as the role that Imagination’s IP plays in Apple’s latest GPU designs.

The two companies’ relationship came to question back in 2017 when Apple had reportedly communicated to Imagination that they would wind down the use of Imagination’s IP through a new custom GPU that would replace Imagination’s designs and IP entirely.  The announcement eventually lead to a collapse of Imagination’s stock price, and resulting in the company putting itself for sale, and subsequently being bought by Canyon Bridge for £550M later that year.

While we don’t have much insight into Apple’s latest GPU designs, it’s understood that these are custom microarchitecture designs are based upon Imagination’s GPU architecture IP, which makes it unique in the GPU world as we don’t see any other such GPU architecture license in the market. Features such as tile-based deferred rendering and PVRTC are Imagination patented technologies which Apple currently publicly exposes as features of its GPUs, so it’s evident that the current designs still very much use the British company’s IP. The GPU’s block structure is also very similar to that of Imaginations, further pointing out to a close relationship between the designs.

Interestingly enough, any official mention and press releases involving the skirmish between Apple and Imagination had been removed by both companies’ websites sometime after the kerfuffle (back in 2018 we noticed), pointing out that the two had possibly come to an agreement. Today’s announcement now outright confirms that the two companies had buried the hatchet and that Apple will be continuing to license and make use of Imagination’s IP for years to come.

One question which remains open is if the new licensing agreement continues to include any kind of royalty payments by Apple, if and how big those are compared to the previous agreement, and the scope of the new agreement. The short one-sentence press release does tactically omit the use of “multi-use” in describing the new agreement as opposed to the old agreement (Multi-use here meaning that it’s a µarch design being licensed for as many SoC integrations as seen fit by the customer), which in general terms could be interpreted as it no longer being subject to per-unit royalties – but that’s just my own guesswork.

For Imagination, this is very good news as it finally removes a big shadow of uncertainty as to their future, and confirming that Apple will still be contributing to the company’s revenue for some time to come. Alongside with the new A-Series GPU IP announcement last month and with an aggressive roadmap, it seems the company’s situation and future looks a lot brighter than it did just two years ago.

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Source: IMG Press Release

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  • ksec - Thursday, January 2, 2020 - link

    Or, may be Apple will simply continue to use small amount of PowerVR tech in the future. There are lots of product still using A10 or older SoC, such as HomePod for example. You cant have those shipped and not pay any royalty.
  • Raqia - Thursday, January 2, 2020 - link

    Given that Apple claimed in the past they would totally wind down their usage of Imagination IP, I think their bluff was once again called on this one and it isn't just a case of royalties for legacy IP which could be settled for a pretty negligible amount that wouldn't entail a multi-year agreement. It's very much consistent with Apple's behavior toward other suppliers as well, throwing their weight around to attain a favorable result. Someone should appropriate their branding and start selling apple branded shoes, towels, toilet paper, and surfboards without paying them; only trouble is there aren't many companies bigger than they are in this world. Maybe Saudi-Aramco could be convinced...
  • danielfranklin - Thursday, January 2, 2020 - link

    Welcome to the Apple supply chain.
  • Teckk - Thursday, January 2, 2020 - link

    Qualcomm has its own graphics and Samsung uses Mali directly I guess?
  • soresu - Thursday, January 2, 2020 - link

    Samsung may continue to use Mali in some chips, but the AMD RDNA licensing deal implies the Samsung Exynos high end will be RDNA based in the future.

    Qualcomm's Adreno gfx IP is also AMD/ATI derivative, albeit likely much changed from that original IP sale (Imageon) at this point.

    Huawei will likely continue with Mali in high end, unless the HiSilicon moves indicate they will no longer produce Kirin SoC's, in which case all bets are off on high end use of Mali IP.
  • levizx - Friday, January 3, 2020 - link

    IMG is an option now that ARM isn't reliable anymore courtesy of the Orange.
  • lucam - Thursday, January 2, 2020 - link

    This is a great news indeed.
    However I do think that Apple always have used some kind of IMG tech in their current GPU.
  • levizx - Friday, January 3, 2020 - link

    No need for speculation, PVRTC is patented, so Apple is publicly exposing the evidence. The question was always how many IPs.
  • lucam - Friday, January 3, 2020 - link

    I don’t care anymore 😊. Now I want to see the new IMG solutions in the upcoming Apple products, that they will be far better than the Qualcomm or Mali garbage around.
  • techconc - Monday, June 29, 2020 - link

    You're not going to see new IMG solutions in Apple products. There is clearly some IMG IP that Apple had to license for future usage. That is likely a once and done situation with Apple using that IP as it sees fit in their own custom GPUs.

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