The rise of ARM: From a small acorn to a mighty oak

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British schoolchildren who tapped away on a BBC Micro computer in the 1980s unwittingly sowed the seeds of ARM’s success.

The firm grew out of computer pioneer Acorn Computers, founded by three Cambridge University scientists who struck gold when they signed a deal with the BBC to make the machine.

Scratching their heads to top the device, the burgeoning company developed a new microchip called the Acorn RISC Machine, later abbreviated to ARM.

The technology caught the eye of Silicon Valley and in 1990 Apple and US circuit board maker VLSI Technology persuaded Acorn to spin off the ARM unit into a new firm called Advanced RISC Machines.

The business, comprised of 12 former Acorn engineers, was led by Sir Robin Saxby and he pioneered the practice of licensing chip design to other companies.

Saxby brought entrepreneurial flair to the firm, famously winning ARM’s first boardroom table in a coin flip with a local furniture dealer.

Nokia’s decision to license ARM’s technology in its ubiquitous mobiles paved the way for a landslide of royalty payments to ARM, which floated in 1998.

Royalty payments continued with the next giants of the smartphone era Apple and Samsung — a bonanza which continues today. 

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July 18, 2016 |
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