Qualcomm will acquire chip company founded by Apple execs for $1.4 billion

A company logo is superimposed over a cloud-swollen mountaintop.
Enlarge / A splash image for Nuvia from the company’s blog.

Chipmaker Qualcomm announced a major acquisition today: it will buy Santa Clara-based silicon company Nuvia for $1.4 billion. Qualcomm intends to use Nuvia’s technology in future chip designs for a wide range of devices, from phones to cars.

Nuvia was founded in 2019 by three former Apple semiconductor executives. The startup has been developing custom CPU core design for servers, and its company materials make frequent reference to a mission to “reimagine” silicon design. But Qualcomm sees applications for Nuvia’s tech beyond servers.

Qualcomm’s press release says Nuvia will deliver “step-function improvements in CPU performance and power efficiency to meet the demands of next-generation 5G computing.” Qualcomm plans to use Nuvia’s tech in “flagship smartphones, next-generation laptops, and digital cockpits, as well as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, extended reality and infrastructure networking solutions.”

Like the recently launched Apple Silicon line of chips, Nuvia’s chips are based on the ARM architecture but not fully licensed by ARM. This will allow Qualcomm to achieve better margins while developing chips that could help it compete with Apple’s chips more directly. Qualcomm already provides ARM-based chips for machines designed by Samsung and Microsoft.

The smaller company has fewer than 100 employees, according to Crunchbase, so the acquisition may be chiefly about intellectual property. However, the press release does note that Nuvia’s founders “and their employees” will join Qualcomm.

The announcement included statements in support of the acquisition and where it might go from a wide range of tech companies, including Microsoft, Asus, Google, General Motors, and LG, among others. In other words, this acquisition is part of a strategy shared by Qualcomm and its customers and partners to battle growing perceptions that Apple’s chips are faster and more efficient.

In 2019, Apple sued one of Nuvia’s founders, Gerard Williams III, claiming that he attempted to poach Apple employees for the new venture before he left his position at Apple. However, the suit did not allege intellectual property theft.

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