Kodak files patent infringement complaint, suits against Apple

15 January, 2010 by Dan Moren, Macworld
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Time to put on my black robe and powdered wig, which can only mean another installment of “Under the Gavel”, the much-lauded drama series from TNT blog posts that I write whenever Apple gets itself involved in some heady legal action. Today’s contestant? None other than camera company Eastman Kodak.

I must confess, as a matter of full disclosure, that I have an emotional tie to Kodak, as my mother’s family is from the company’s home base of Rochester, New York; my grandfather worked for them for a time (as, at one point, did a rather large percentage of the city’s population). Unfortunately, the company hasn’t had the easiest time of the transition to the digital age, and it no longer holds quite the cachet it once did.

But on to the matter at hand. Kodak is alleging that Apple (and BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion) have infringed upon patents covering technology that lets people preview images. As a result, Kodak has filed a complaint with the International Trade Commission, as well as a pair of district court suits against Apple.

According to Kodak Chief Intellectual Property Officer Laura G. Quatela, legal action is a last resort. She says the company had engaged in talks with both Apple and RIM for years without being able to resolve the issue. And thus, to court. Kodak has asked the ITC for an order preventing infringing devices—chief among them camera-enabled smartphones—from being imported.

The lawsuits, meanwhile, cover both patents related to image preview and image processing and a patent where computer software can request another application to handle certain tasks. That last patent came up in a 2004 trial over Sun’s Java technology; Sun and Kodak eventually settled on a licensing fee. In addition, Kodak recently announced a deal with Samsung for cross-licensing that ended a similar patent-infringement dispute. The suits aim to prevent Apple from any further infringement and award Kodak damages of undisclosed amounts. Kodak’s Quatela says that negotiation options remain on the table, however.

It’s so tough when two of my favourite companies go up against each other: who do you root for? I guess, in the end, you just have to hope that they can work it all out over a glass of milk and some cookies. Just like we learned in my kindergarten legal class.

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