ARM jingling with cash as its chips get everywhere
Fondle-slabs, jabber-slablets, TVs - just not computers
Cambridge-based ARM holdings is celebrating a fine start to 2011, with more money coming in from more markets as its chip designs continue to fill everything that is not a desktop computer.
The first three months of 2011 saw revenue up by almost 30 per cent (to £116m) leading to an operating profit of more than £50m - a margin well over 40 per cent thanks to the fact that ARM licenses technology rather than building stuff. But that technology is popping up in even more places as the industry looks away from the traditional computing environment.
Broadcom and LG Electronics joined the list of ARM licensees this year, taking the total to 39 companies able to manufacture chips based on the ARM architecture. Such chips are already powering the vast majority of smartphones (including the iPhone and Android handsets) as well as their less-endowed brethren – ARM really has the phone market sewn up.
The rise in tablet computing isn't doing ARM any harm, as all the popular tablet platforms are ARM-based, and the company is looking forward to the growing market in set top boxes as another opportunity to shift licensed chips.
Mobile tablets and phones consumed 1.15 billion of such ARM-based processors in the first three months of 2011, with another 700 million being shipped in televisions, disk drives and all sorts of consumer kit.
The older ARM processors turn up in the strangest of places, being really cheap and very reliable, though often you'd have a hard time noticing. Companies such as Samsung license the ARM designs to embed them in their own processors, using the latest design in the A4 that it makes for Apple's iPhone, and earlier models for chips destined for televisions, ereaders and everything else that's taking computing power out of computers. ®
Not really, because
they are patenting processor architecture, rather than rounded corners or one-click buying.
The difference between ARM and a patent troll
The main difference between ARM and a patent troll is that ARM actually develops technology that has value to third parties. Patent trolling is parasitic - the patents do not necessarily have to cover technology that has saleable value or even incur significant R&D costs. They simply have to be granted with a definition sufficiently broad that they can be used to shake down third parties with a credible legal threat.
Some outfits do both. Intellectual Ventures comes to mind as a company that seems to divide opinion on this subject. On one hand they do actually fund R&D that appears to produce saleable I.P. On the other they have a rather shadowy patent hoarding operation using shell companies and creative accounting to keep the exact extent of the portfolio out of the public eye.
These are Q1 figures alone, not a year-long results.
By licensing at relatively low royalty levels, manufacturers are happy to continue to license the technology and less likely to switch architectures.
As a result, as long as ARM based chips are being manufactured, ARM Holdings will continue to watch the royalties roll in.
£50m profit every quarter (assuming each quarter is the same) for the foreseeable future is very nice, thank you very much.
>ARM Licenses technology...
I think you'll find that ARM develops and licenses fully realised technology solutions, not just patents.
Jingling with cash?
£50m - that's less than a banker's bonus..