Imagination Tech buys MIPS, gets license to thrill

These are certainly interesting times in the tech industry, not least because of the success of chip firms who license their IP for use by others—with ARM being the most prominent example. Right behind ARM in public awareness is Imagination Technologies, an early player in the PC graphics market (with chips like the Kyro II) whose PowerVR graphics processor designs power a host of popular devices, including Apple's iOS offerings.

Now, Imagination Tech is looking to get a better foothold on the CPU side of things with the acquisition of a familiar name: MIPS Technologies, one of the microprocessor leaders from the old RISC vs. CISC wars who found itself on the losing side of a battle for supremacy against Intel. MIPS has since made a business for itself in embedded devices of various types, where it competes against a rising star in ARM. MIPS claims that over 700 million products based on its processor architecture shipped in its latest fiscal year, although it lost money during that span. Imagination Tech will pay $60 million to purchase MIPS's operations and a subset of its patent portfolio.

Separately, a consortium of companies led by ARM will pay $350 million for the bulk of the MIPS patent portfolio. ARM says the transaction will "support continued innovation in system-on-chip design, whilst removing any potential litigation risk presented by the MIPS patent portfolio with respect to the consortium members." Non-members of the consortium will also be able to license the patents, if they wish. Furthermore, Imagination Tech and the consortium will grant each other licenses to the portions of the MIPS portfolio they hold.

So MIPS's body has been quartered and taken to the four corners of the kingdom. Now, Imagination Tech will shepherd the MIPS architecture as an alternative to ARM, while ARM continues to develop its own Mali GPUs to take on PowerVR. Imagination already has an established CPU business with its SMT-enhanced Meta processors, which use their own ISA. One would expect Imagination to consolidate its development efforts around the MIPS ISA eventually.

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