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Thursday, January 14, 2010, 07:00 am PT (10:00 am ET)

Kodak sues Apple on claims of iPhone-related patent infringement

The Eastman Kodak Company announced Thursday that it filed a lawsuit against Apple with the U.S. International Trade Commission, alleging that the iPhone infringes a Kodak patent related to previewing images.

In all, two lawsuits were filed against Apple in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York. The first suit against Apple covers the previewing of images, and processing them at different resolutions. The second lawsuit alleges that Apple has infringed on patents that allow a computer to "ask for help" from another application to carry out certain functions.

Also a subject of legal action from Kodak is Research in Motion and its BlackBerry devices.

"Kodak has a long history of digital imaging innovation and we have invested hundreds of millions of dollars creating our industry-leading patent portfolio," said Laura G. Quatela, chief intellectual property officer and vice president with Kodak. "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. 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."

Kodak, in a press release, noted that it has licensed digital imaging technology to about 30 companies. They include handset makers like LG, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung and Sony Ericsson. All of those companies pay royalties to Kodak.

"Our primary interest is not to disrupt the availability of any product but to obtain fair compensation for the use of our technology," Quatela said. "There's a basic issue of fairness that needs to be addressed. Those devices use Kodak technology, and we are merely seeking compensation for the use of our technology in their products."

On Dec. 17, Kodak won a similar suit against Samsung. An ITC judge ruled that patent No. 6,292,218 related to color image preview was valid and enforceable. The ITC determined that camera-equipped phones from Samsung violated the patent. Kodak hopes to have the same success against Apple and RIM.

The same patents in question regarding Apple were at the center of a lawsuit between Kodak and Sun Microsystems in 2004. A federal jury determined that Sun's Java programming had infringed on the patents in question, and Kodak settled the suit in return for a licensing agreement.

In its new suit against Apple, Kodak has asked the ITC to permanently enjoin Apple from further infringement. The company also seeks damages for the alleged infringement.

"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."

Kodak's suit is another high-profile legal battle for Apple. The iPhone maker is currently engaged in three separate suits with rival handset maker Nokia over various patents. Nokia has also filed a suit with the ITC against Apple, and Apple has also countersued Nokia.

Last October, Apple was hit with a suit from an imaging patent holder that won previous complaints against Sony and Canon. St. Clair Intellectual Property Consultants has alleged that Apple is in violation of four digital imaging related patents it owns. Coincidentally, Kodak and RIM have also been sued by St. Clair.