Tech Industry

ITC once again sides with Apple, RIM in Kodak patent spat

In a new ruling, the U.S. International Trade Commission says Apple and Research In Motion are not violating one of Kodak's patents.

The U.S. International Trade Commission today once again said Apple and Research In Motion are not infringing on a patent held by Eastman Kodak.

ITC administrative law judge Thomas Pender today posted his initial determination (PDF) in the case, reaffirming a decision the group made last year that the two companies were not infringing on one of Kodak's patents with their mobile devices:

I hereby reaffirm on remand that no violation of Section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930, as amended, has been found in the importation into the United States, the sale for importation, or the sale within the United States after importation of certain mobile telephones and wireless communication devices featuring digital cameras, and components thereof, in connection with claim 15 of U.S. Patent No. 6,292,218.

The decision notes that devices from Apple and RIM were, in fact, infringing on one of the claims made within the patent, but recommends that the specific claim is invalid "for obviousness." In Apple's case, that was only the iPhone 3G, while the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 were found not to infringe. In a separate complaint against Samsung, an ITC administrative law judge found the same patent valid.

In a statement, Kodak said it is pleased with the ITC's decision, but that it would vie to keep the patent in play.

"We are pleased the ALJ has concluded that Kodak's patent is infringed by Apple and RIM," said Timothy Lynch, Kodak's vice president and chief intellectual property officer. "We expect to appeal to the full Commission his recommendation on validity. The ALJ's recommendation represents a preliminary step in a process that we are confident will conclude in Kodak's favor."

CNET has reached out to Apple and RIM for comment, and we will update this story if we hear back.

Kodak originally filed its complaint against the two technology companies on January 14, 2010, alleging that they infringed on U.S. Patent No. 6,292,218, which covers image previewing technology for cameras. Kodak sought to get smartphones from both companies blocked from entering the U.S., arguing that their cameras made use of image previewing technology covered by a Kodak patent.

Last January, an administrative law judge found no violation of the patent, however the ITC's commission decided to review that decision. Making matters more complex, the ITC's chief administrative law judge retired, and the case was transferred to Pender, leadingto further delays.

The ruling is preliminary and needs to be approved by the ITC's full six-member commission. A final ruling in the matter is due by September 21, 2012.

Kodak, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January, is in the midst of attempting to sell off its patent portfolio. In court documents filed last week, it accused Apple of trying to put a wrench in those plans to keep from paying royalties, as well as to get a lower price if it ends up being the buyer.

Technology companies in recent years have increasingly turned to the ITC to settle their disputes. Companies can pursue an ITC case in parallel with civil lawsuits, and the threat of an embargo on products typically forces companies to settle more quickly.

Updated at 10:57 a.m. PT with additional background.