Nvidia Takes a Page from ARM’s Playbook, Stock Price Posts New High

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Graphics chip maker Nvidia Corp. (NASDAQ: NVDA) said this morning that it will expand its technology licensing program to include its graphics processing unit (GPU) cores and visual computing patents as it fights for space in the booming demand for mobile devices. The company already has a contained program, having licensed an earlier GPU core to Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) for the PlayStation 3 and licensed some visual computing patents to Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC) for $250 million a year as the result of legal settlement.

Now the company plans to begin by licensing the GPU core to its Kepler chip architecture. In a post on the company’s blog, Nvidia said:

Yesterday’s PC industry, which produced several hundred million units a year, will soon become a computing-devices industry that produces many billions of units a year. And visual computing is at the epicenter of it all. … But it’s not practical to build silicon or systems to address every part of the expanding market. Adopting a new business approach will allow us to address the universe of devices.

This is roughly the model that has been so successful for ARM Holdings PLC (NASDAQ: ARMH) in the low-power market that includes mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. ARM licenses a variety of semiconductors, including GPUs.

A competitor in the GPU licensing business is London-listed Imagination Technologies Group, which reported today that full-year profits were down due to a slowdown in licensing. The company, which has a market cap about a tenth the size of Nvidia’s, said that it has lost business to large players like Texas Instruments Inc. (NASDAQ: TXN) and Qualcomm Corp. (NASDAQ: QCOM) as smartphone makers are consolidating their supply chains.

Nvidia is a bit late to this party, but some aggressive pricing and a win or two could put the company right into the thick of things. Shares were trading up 6.8% before noon today at $15.38, after posting a new 52-week high of $15.48. The 52-week low is $11.15.