Qualcomm offers to invest in Arm as regulators threaten Nvidia deal


Cristiano Amon, president of Qualcomm and Qualcomm CDMA Technologies, responds to a question during a panel discussion on 5G wireless broadband technology during the 2018 CES in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. January 10, 2018.

Steve Marcus | Reuters

U.S. chip goliath Qualcomm has said it is open to the idea of investing in U.K. chip designer Arm if the company’s $40 billion sale to Nvidia is blocked by regulators, according to a report from The Telegraph newspaper on Sunday.

Qualcomm’s incoming CEO, Cristiano Amon, reportedly said that Qualcomm would be willing to buy a stake in Arm alongside other industry investors if SoftBank, Arm’s current owner, listed the company on the stock market instead of selling it to Nvidia.

“If Arm has an independent future, I think you will find there is a lot of interest from a lot of the companies within the ecosystem, including Qualcomm, to invest in Arm,” Amon said, according to The Telegraph. “If it moves out of SoftBank and it goes into a process of becoming a publicly-traded company, [with] a consortium of companies that invest, including many of its customers, I think those are great possibilities.”

Amon reportedly added that Qualcomm would “definitely be open to it” and that the company has “had discussions with other companies that feel the same way.”

Qualcomm declined to comment when contacted by CNBC, while Nvidia said an IPO wouldn’t be enough to support Arm’s growth. Arm did not immediately respond.

Arm was spun out of an early computing company called Acorn Computers in 1990. The company’s energy-efficient chip architectures are used in 95% of the world’s smartphones and 95% of the chips designed in China. The company licenses its chip designs to more than 500 companies who use them to make their own chips.

An Nvidia spokesperson told CNBC that Arm needed more than an IPO if it is to achieve its full potential.

“Arm needs an infusion of new technology that it can provide to Arm licensees everywhere, which is why we stepped up and agreed to buy Arm,” they said. “Our technologies and Qualcomm’s are highly complementary — we’d welcome Qualcomm’s help in creating new technologies and products for the entire Arm ecosystem.”

Arm’s takeover by Nvidia was announced by the companies last September and it was expected to take around 18 months to go through. Since then, Qualcomm has been telling regulators around the world that it is against the deal, as have Microsoft and Google, according to Bloomberg.

The companies say they are opposed to the takeover because there’s a risk that Nvidia could become a gatekeeper of Arm’s technology and prevent other chipmakers from using the company’s intellectual property. They question whether Nvidia will be able to fully capitalize on the acquisition without blocking access to Arm’s chip designs.

Nvidia has repeatedly said it will maintain Arm’s open licensing model and invest heavily in Arm’s headquarters in Cambridge, U.K.

But the Federal Trade Commission, the European Commission, the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority and China’s State Administration for Market Regulation are all in the process of investigating the deal.

Arm has as a joint venture called “Arm China” with Chinese private equity firm Hopu Investments. Arm China is headquartered in Shanghai, meaning China’s Ministry of Commerce and China’s State Administration for Market Regulation has the right to review the deal.

Nvidia has asked Chinese regulators to approve the deal in recent weeks, according to a report from The Financial Times earlier this month that cites sources familiar with th e matter. Nvidia said the regulatory process was confidential, but it remains confident that it will receive approval and “close in early 2022.”