Kodak patent complaints target Apple, RIM

Photo company alleges camera features in both iPhones and BlackBerrys infringe on a Kodak patent for technology used to preview images.

Eastman Kodak on Thursday announced that it has filed legal complaints against Apple and Research in Motion alleging patent infringement.

The photo company claims the camera technology used in Apple's iPhone and RIM's BlackBerry to preview images infringes on a digital imaging patent owned by Kodak. In a complaint filed with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), Kodak is asking that certain mobile phones with digital cameras be excluded from import unless the company can reach a fair method of compensation with Apple and RIM.

"In the case of Apple and RIM, we've had discussions for years with both companies in an attempt to resolve this issue amicably, and we have not been able to reach a satisfactory agreement," said Laura Quatela, Kodak's chief intellectual property officer, in a statement. "In light of that, we are taking this action to ensure that we protect the interests of our shareholders and the existing licensees of our technology."

To further back up its claims, Kodak has also filed two lawsuits against Apple in U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York. In the first suit, Kodak is alleging that Apple is violating two patents related to image preview and the ability to process images of different resolutions.

In the second suit, Kodak claims infringement by Apple in a process by which one computer program can call on another to carry out certain functions. The first suit relates specifically to the iPhone, while the second is being targeted against any Apple product using that specific process.

In pursuing these lawsuits, Kodak seems to have the benefit of legal precedence on its side. The patents described in the second suit were the same ones that played a role in the lawsuit that Kodak filed against Sun Microsystems in 2002. That suit alleged that certain technologies found in Sun's Java programming environment violated three Kodak patents. After two years in the courts, the case was finally settled in favor of Kodak, which received payment from Sun in return for a license to use the technologies in question.

In a more recent case, Kodak filed a complaint in 2008 with the ITC against Samsung, alleging that certain Samsung mobile phones equipped with cameras infringed on Kodak patents. In December, an ITC judge ruled in favor of Kodak, finding that Samsung had violated the patents. On Wednesday, the two companies apparently shook hands to set up a cross-licensing deal, thereby stopping all pending lawsuits and legal action. As a result of the settlement, Kodak will receive royalties from Samsung.

In its actions against both Apple and RIM, Kodak is seeking damages and a halt to the patent infringement but seems hopeful the cases can be settled without much legal hassle.

"We remain open to negotiating a fair and amicable agreement with both Apple and RIM, which has always been our preference and our practice with other licensees," Quatela said. "We seek to avoid litigation in our licensing programs whenever possible. But when the infringement is persistent, we will act to defend the interests of our shareholders and licensees, and to promote the fair compensation that is the bedrock of innovation."

In requests from CNET for comments on the lawsuit, RIM declined to comment and Apple didn't immediately respond.

 

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