To find new outlets for its GPU business, Nvidia has started licensing its GPU architecture to other application processor (AP) designers. Kepler was the first GPU platform Nvidia offered for licensing and its latest-generation Maxwell will also become available for licensing later.
Digitimes Research believes Nvidia is looking to rely on the licensing business and its GPU patents to penetrate into the mobile GPU market where ARM and Qualcomm combine for an almost 70% share.
Although Nvidia started its GPU architecture licensing business in June 2013, the company so far has not yet obtained any orders because Kepler's size occupies a large portion of APs' space, causing a rather weak performance per area. In addition to size, potential clients have been deterred by a lack of flexibility in determining where the GPU can be placed.
Nvidia's upcoming Maxwell has a performance per area about 160% better than Kepler and has a higher flexibility in the location of the GPU, allowing clients to easily achieve their desired performance/cost balances. Therefore, Digitimes Research believes Nvidia's GPU licensing business may not actually start contributing revenues until the Maxwell architecture's release.
Meanwhile, Nvidia has filed lawsuits against Samsung Electronics and Qualcomm for infringing its GPU patents. Nvidia has over 7,000 GPU patents and is suing the two firms for patents related to some basic technologies such as object texture, lighting, shading, GPGPU, vertex operator. Samsung Electronics is being sued for using ARM's Mali GPU architecture.
The patent lawsuits are a part of Nvidia's patent licensing plan. And if Nvidia prevails in the patent war, clients should be more willingly to use Nvidia's GPUs.