While the US sent repeated signals that the acquisition of almost any US chip businesses by Chinese interests was not acceptable, in the UK there have always been fewer mechanisms of intervention and less inclination to use them. A lightning-fast raid by Softbank acquired ARM almost before London Stock Exchange and the UK government was aware of it. And it was Apple's withdrawal of support for Imagination in 2016 and 2017 that left it vulnerable to takeover. When few other people could see the value China saw its opportunity to grab an engineering company and resources that were technically world-class.
It is also notable that the US insisted that China could not get hold off the MIPS processor business that was in Imagination's ownership. Hence a deal was constructed to split Imagination with the MIPS portion being picked up by Tallwood Ventures and Canyon Bridge acquiring the remainder of Imagination with its interest in GPUs and connectivity IP.
With its Chinese-backed owner and its globally-experienced Chinese CEO, Imagination is now in a position to re-energize how its serves intellectual property market. And while ARM is now the undoubted leader in processor and GPU licensing for mobile, technology markets are forever changing. The rise of home-grown architectures and RISC-V makes ARM's position in processor IP less certain.
And the technical front line is moving on to machine learning, support for neural networks and artificial intelligence. That fact is attested to by ARM's decision to move senior executive Jem Davies from its graphics business, where he had masterminded ARM's rise in GPUs, to a new machine learning division. But that also illustrates that there is everything to play for. And Imagination is now in a better position to garner support in China and elsewhere from SoC vendors who find ARM expensive or not differentiating.
The game's afoot and now China has some skin in the game; together with patience, determination and resources that should not be doubted.
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