Apple gives up legal war on iPhone CPU wizard who co-founded Nuvia

Qualcomm acquisition dodges one bullet, Arm still coming for blood

Apple has abandoned its lawsuit against its former chief chip architect Gerard Williams, just over three years after accusing him of breaching his contract to found Arm-compatible chipmaker Nuvia.

The case, filed in a Santa Clara Superior Court in Silicon Valley in late 2019, alleged that Williams, who for more than a decade oversaw the design of Apple's mobile processors, breached his contract by plotting to form Nuvia and poach his Apple colleagues to his startup, while still working in Cupertino biz. Williams, meanwhile, argued that these restrictions were unenforceable under California law.

But while Williams failed to convince the court to throw out the case, it appears Apple has lost interest in the lawsuit. Last week, the iGiant's lawyers filed a request for dismissal [PDF]. Unfortunately, the macOS maker's reasons remain unclear, with the filing offering no clues as to claimants' reasoning.

The Register reached out to both Apple and Williams' attorneys for comment on the decision. Both parties declined to comment.

It's worth noting that while Williams played a significant role in developing Cupertino's family of homegrown Arm-compatible processors, Nuvia targeted a very different market. Rather than compete with Apple in the mobile and desktop processing spaces, Nuvia, at least initially, focused its efforts on the datacenter and server space, an area which Apple hasn't dabbled in for more than a decade.

In fact, it was said that Nuvia was formed after Williams and others were unable to persuade Apple to build its own custom server processors, as well as in-house personal computing silicon, and so they started up a biz to do just that: build homegrown server chips.

This focus on the datacenter, however, didn't last long. In 2021 Qualcomm acquired Nuvia in a $1.4 billion deal and revealed plans to integrate its Arm-based core designs into SoCs for everything from notebooks to servers. Last November, Qualcomm teased its first chips based on Nuvia's core designs during a Snapdragon Summit in Hawaii.

Despite making progress toward bringing the core designs to market, the future of Qualcomm's Nuvia-derived chips has been called into question after Arm Holdings filed a separate lawsuit against the US chipmaker last August.

The British chip-designer argued Qualcomm failed to obtain Arm's consent to use Nuvia's Arm-compatible technology in breach of its licenses. Arm demanded that Qualcomm destroy all Nuvia CPU designs and pay penalties after the company alleged that the American chip house declined to negotiate new licensing terms.

Qualcomm, for its part, has characterized Arm as a bully hellbent on extracting larger license fees from the semiconductor world. As we reported in March, Arm hopes to eventually extract royalties directly from phone and other device makers that use Arm-compatible processors designed by chip companies.

Back to Apple, and its lawyers perhaps concluded any threat posed by Williams' now four-year-old knowledge of the iGiant's chip design efforts and roadmap was minimal. That and/or Apple figured it was done menacing its ex-guru in the courts and walked away knowing it was a hopeless case given California law. ®

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