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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  • Lord of the Bored - Friday, January 3, 2020 - link

    Conclusion: Apple tried to force Imagination's value into the toilet so they could eat them, but they waited for too big a discount, missed their window, and came back with their head hung low because they still needed them juicy patent licenses.
  • levizx - Friday, January 3, 2020 - link

    Apple didn't even try to buy them after the collapse. You comment makes zero sense.
  • Lord of the Bored - Saturday, January 4, 2020 - link

    I think Apple was waiting for a better price and someone else jumped in before it fell as low as Apple wanted.
    Or Apple was waiting for them to sell off the graphics assets apart from the rest of the company.

    There's no way they were going to just not use any Imagination-patented technology. Because it wasn't actually possible, especially not in a backwards-compatible way.
  • RaduR - Friday, January 3, 2020 - link

    First you build reasonable phones using my Tech, then you steal it form me , I go bankrupt , then you start buying patents from me (I'm still Bankrupt).

    With this attitude I start loving Qualcomm.
  • s.yu - Saturday, January 4, 2020 - link

    Betting everything on a single company is not sound business strategy.
  • GC2:CS - Saturday, January 4, 2020 - link

    So Apple tried to buy IMG. They rejected (twice ?!?) then there was anouncement of Apple investing into custom GPU - “separate independent GPU design”. No IMG IP needed.

    IMG collapses, fails to release new comercial designs, sells CISC business and itself gets bought by some chinese.
    Apple half a year later droms custom GPU in A11 with higher efficiency than legacy overclocked 6(or 7 ?) XT desiGn in use since A9. Then A12 launches with higher efficiency, then A13 launches with much higher efficiency yet aggain.

    Imagination renews licencing with Apple with wider range of IP.

    Why IMG have not said they still licence to Apple for 3 years ?
    Why there was not any conflict between them ?
    WHAT is The GPU in A11 to 13 ?
    Why it has so much more perf without some crazy changes to architecture ?
    Is it custom, IMG designed or both ?
    Will Apple revert to IMG A series ?
    How does A series compare to A13 GPU ?

    We don’t know anything. Just give me that skyrym at 120 fps on my 13” iPP
  • s.yu - Saturday, January 4, 2020 - link

    A lot of questions I'd like to ask.

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