How Apple will dodge an Imagination lawsuit

April 03, 2017 // By Peter Clarke
Once the best of friends processor licensor Imagination and consumer electronics giant Apple look set to fall out at the end of a relationship that has lasted more than a decade. Must Imagination sue and how will Apple avoid such a suit?

The situation is that Apple has told Imagination Technologies Group plc (Kings Langley, England) that it will be dropping the use of its GPUs in about two years' time and Imagination has said it reserves the right to sue Apple for unauthorised use of Imagination’s confidential information and Imagination's intellectual property rights (see Apple dumping GPUs: Imagination in discussions).

It would seem that Imagination has little to lose and must sue but Apple has effectively invoked what one might call the "waiting" defence. Although it is Imagination that has gone public on the matter. And it seems unlikely that such big moves will not be without consequences for other IP players such as ARM.

But first some background.

Apple and Imagination used to be the best of friends with Apple using PowerVR graphics for all its wonderful iProducts and even bailing out Imagination with a cash injection back in 2008 and 2009. But over the last 12 months the relationship has soured.

In early 2016, when Imagination was changing management in response to yet another financial crisis, Apple said it didn't want to buy out Imagination. To many observers a buy out had looked like a natural solution for the struggling UK company whose GPU cores appeared to be central to Apple's home-designed processors.

The fact that Apple wouldn't go there was a warning sign that PowerVR's future at Apple might not be assured.

Then in the second half of 2016 Apple recruited numerous GPU engineers from the UK that had previously worked for Imagination (see Apple hires group of UK GPU engineers). That was warning sign number two.

Now Apple has told its processor intellectual property licensor Imagination that it won't be using Imagination's intellectual property or paying royalties after about 15 months to two years, presumably the time it takes to develop a new graphics architecture and implementations of it.

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