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Apple barred from pursuing patent claims against Kodak

Bankruptcy judge says iPhone maker's attempt to restart litigation over a digital-imaging patent would be inappropriate during bankruptcy proceedings.

A judge told Apple today that it could not restart patent-infringement litigation against Eastman Kodak over a patent that may be sold during the troubled photography company's bankruptcy proceedings.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Allan Gropper, who is overseeing Kodak's Chapter 11 bankruptcy case, denied Apple's request to file a complaint with the International Trade Commission and attempt to unfreeze a patent lawsuit pending between the companies. Gropper said it would be inappropriate to allow Apple to continue pursuing claims against Kodak while the company is reorganizing.

The patent, which covers technology that allows consumers to preview digital photographs on LCD screens, is part of a portfolio of digital-imaging patents Kodak is hoping to sell for as much as $2.6 billion. The ruling is a setback for Apple, which fears the patent might be sold before its rightful ownership is determined by the courts.

An Apple spokesperson declined to comment on the ruling.

Last May, the International Trade Commission ruled that patent-infringement claims Apple had brought against Kodak related to the way images are displayed on digital cameras had not been violated. Kodak responded by filing a lawsuit against the iPhone maker for allegedly violating patents related to transferring and e-mailing images and sending photos over a cellular or Wi-Fi network.

Kodak filed for bankruptcy protection in January, securing $950 million in debtor-in-possession financing from Citigroup that that will allow the company to continue operations as it restructures. It was also issued an automatic stay that protected it from existing and new litigation. Part of the deal, however, is that Kodak must sell a portfolio of 1,100 digital-imaging patents.

Worried the patent would be sold off, the iPhone maker last month asked the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for permission to restart litigation against Kodak by filing lawsuits with the ITC and the U.S. District Court of Manhattan, alleging that Kodak violated patents it holds related to printers, digital picture frames, and digital cameras. Kodak responded by asking Gropper to block Apple's lawsuits from proceeding.