06 November 2012

Will the acquisition of MIPS be $60m well spent?

The fate of MIPS Technologies has been the subject of rumours for several months after news surfaced earlier in 2012 that the company had retained an investment bank to 'explore options'. That's usually a euphemism for finding someone to buy it.

One of the companies mentioned in the swirls of rumours was Imagination Technologies, but it wasn't seen as a serious candidate; larger companies such as Broadcom were favoured. But the deal has been done and, all things being equal, MIPS will become part of Imagination early in 2013.

MIPS was a leader in the development of 32bit microprocessor cores, enjoying much success in the 1990s as the need for semiconductor IP grew. But the company failed to breakthrough in the manner which many expected.

One of the areas where it failed to gain any meaningful presence was mobile phones; the sector which has propelled ARM to its current status. Recently, some eagle eyed observers had spotted a $100m provision in ARM's latest financial statement for acquisitions. Some wondered whether that could have been for MIPS.

Interestingly, ARM is the lead partner in the consortium buying the bulk of MIPS' patent portfolio. As part of the deal, MIPS is selling 492 patents to a trust organisation for $350m and ARM is chipping in $167.5m.

How will MIPS fare under its new ownership? The acquisition looks, on first sight, to be complementary. Imagination has been developing IP based microprocessor cores since the early 2000s, when it launched Metagence Technologies. Now called the Meta family, the 32bit SoC processor IP cores would appear to be complemented by MIPS' technology. Imagination may well have been attracted by the recently launched Aptiv cores, which have been designed for consumer applications and which seem to sit well alongside Imagination's line up.

Imagination's ceo Hossein Yassaie said: "I believe the combination of our existing Meta CPU technologies and activities with MIPS' capabilities will help us to create a new force to be reckoned with in the CPU IP market."

Whether the deal is a good move will become clear in the short term. But you have to believe that it's going to be $60million well spent by Imagination.

Graham Pitcher

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