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Kodak nearing sale of patents?

Company is working on a deal with a major player in the wireless business, though its identity has yet to be revealed, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Eastman Kodak has a strong patent portfolio that it's ready to sell off to the highest bidder, The Wall Street Journal is reporting.

Citing anonymous sources, the Journal said today that Kodak is trying to take advantage of the patent-acquisition craze by selling its intellectual property to companies across the wireless industry. Kodak has already found one "large, strategic buyer in the wireless industry" that wants Kodak's patents for legal protection, according to the Journal.

Last month, Kodak acknowledged that it wanted to sell at least some of its patents. The company said in a statement that it was exploring offering 10 percent of its patent portfolio, or about 1,100 patents, related to digital imaging. Their actual value has yet to be released.

Kodak's decision to sell its patents comes at a time when several prominent companies are looking to improve their mobile portfolios to combat the growing number of lawsuits hitting the industry.

The gold rush started in earnest in June when a consortium made up of Apple, EMC, Ericsson, Microsoft, Research In Motion, and Sony agreed to acquire 6,000 mobile-related patents from Nortel Networks in a deal valued at $4.5 billion. The firms outbid Google, which had offered Nortel $900 million in April.

Related stories:
• Google to acquire Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion
• Google just bought itself patent protection
• Google's Motorola bid shrinks mobile patent supply

Last month, Google responded with a patent purchase of its own, announcing that it had acquired over 1,000 IBM patents that span several markets, including search and processors. The price tag on that deal has yet to be revealed.

However, the biggest move from Google came earlier this week when the search giant announced that it had agreed to acquire Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion. Although Google CEO Larry Page said there were several reasons his company decided to acquire Motorola Mobility, the company's strong patent portfolio was a key factor.

"We recently explained how companies including Microsoft and Apple are banding together in anti-competitive patent attacks on Android," Page wrote in a blog post. "The U.S. Department of Justice had to intervene in the results of one recent patent auction to 'protect competition and innovation in the open source software community' and it is currently looking into the results of the Nortel auction. Our acquisition of Motorola will increase competition by strengthening Google's patent portfolio, which will enable us to better protect Android from anti-competitive threats from Microsoft, Apple and other companies."

Motorola has over 17,000 patents and is waiting on approval for another 7,500.

Google has been quite outspoken about its issues with litigation in the mobile business. In a blog post earlier this year, the company's chief legal counsel, David Drummond, said the lawsuits being waged against Android by a host of companies, including Oracle, Apple, and Microsoft, are only meant to hurt competition in the marketplace.

"A smartphone might involve as many as 250,000 (largely questionable) patent claims, and our competitors want to impose a 'tax' for these dubious patents that makes Android devices more expensive for consumers," Drummond wrote in a blog post. "They want to make it harder for manufacturers to sell Android devices. Instead of competing by building new features or devices, they are fighting through litigation."

Although it's not often cited, Kodak has been on the periphery of the patent battles being waged today. In January 2010, Kodak launched a patent-infringement case against Apple and RIM, alleging that the companies' smartphone cameras violate patents it holds. Earlier this year, a judge in the U.S. International Trade Commission said that neither Apple nor RIM violated Kodak patents. However, the full, six-member panel has agreed to hear arguments on the matter, which means Apple and RIM aren't out of the woods yet.

Even with that initial loss, Kodak has survived over the last several years by licensing its patents to other companies. The company generated nearly $2 billion in patent-licensing fees between 2008 and 2010. However, the Journal reported, citing sources, that companies are no longer so willing to license patents from Kodak, which is prompting the company to try to sell its portfolio.

That said, it's also possible that Kodak itself could be acquired. The company, which has struggled since the onslaught of digital cameras and digital film, has a market capitalization of only $724 million, which has caused some to speculate that its patent portfolio is worth more than the company itself. If its portfolio is acquired, there's little left of the company, which means it might require any suitor to acquire it outright, rather than just its patents. Whether it's even entertaining such an idea, though, is unknown.

Kodak did not immediately respond to CNET's request for comment.