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Arm IP Licensing Gets More Flexible

August 6, 2019

Author: Mike Demler

Licensing of processor intellectual property (IP) traditionally involves large upfront costs, but free open-source RISC-V cores have upended that business model. Although Arm’s DesignStart program offers Cortex-M0 and Cortex-M3 CPUs with no upfront license fee, they’re older and, on their own, insufficient to build a complete chip. To address those issues and attract small customers that might otherwise choose RISC-V, the company launched a new “try before you buy” program called Flexible Access, which allows designers to evaluate and select cores from a larger IP catalog.

Rather than pay separate license fees before using each CPU, GPU, or other SoC component, Flexible Access customers pay an annual subscription fee to gain access to a variety of cores and system IP. The program doesn’t eliminate licensing fees; it defers them, letting participants evaluate multiple cores before committing to a specific chip design. When customers send their tapeout to a foundry, they pay the standard per-product licenses. Royalty fees remain the same as in the traditional Arm licensing model.

The new program has two tiers: entry level and standard. For $75,000, participants in the entry-level tier get access to the complete library, but they can only use it for one tapeout per year. Startups often minimize costs by building a few prototype chips in a shuttle run, so Arm says it’s flexible regarding what qualifies as a product tapeout. The standard tier permits an unlimited number of tapeouts for $200,000 annually. Both options include standard Arm technical support and an initial setup session with a support engineer.

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