Digital Camera Patent Wins Review

A Blackberry wireless e-mail device is on display at a Verizon store Tuesday, May 2, 2006 in New York. GoAmerica Inc., of Hackensack, N.J., Tuesday released its software designed to enable BlackBerry handheld devices to make relay calls. AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

A federal agency that oversees trade disputes said Wednesday it will investigate Eastman Kodak Co.'s patent-infringement complaint over digital-camera technology used in iPhones and BlackBerrys.

The U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington will weigh whether to block imports of the smart phones after Kodak alleged Apple Inc.'s iPhone and Research in Motion Ltd.'s camera-enabled BlackBerry models infringe on a 2001 patent covering ways to preview digital images.

Patent cases can take years to resolve, and agreements over licensing and royalty payments often emerge. But the trade commission, which can order Customs to stop imports of products made with contested technology, is seen as a fast-track mediator that typically resolves disputes in 12 to 15 months.

In December, after a yearlong legal tussle, Kodak negotiated royalty paying deals with South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co. and LG Electronics Inc. It followed up in mid-January by suing Apple and Research in Motion after failing to negotiate patent-royalty deals with the two companies.

RIM and Apple officials declined to comment Wednesday.

Among the smart phones in Kodak's complaint are touch-screen models like the BlackBerry Storm that Canada-based Research in Motion introduced to compete with the iPhone, Apple's hottest gadget.

Kodak also has filed separate lawsuits against Apple in U.S. District Court in Rochester, claiming an infringement of patents related to digital cameras and certain computer processes. It is asking for unspecified monetary damages and a court order to end the disputed practices.

In 2009, Kodak booked $622 million in intellectual-property income. It will draw $450 million in payments from Samsung alone this year, possibly in the first quarter.

The picture-taking pioneer, based in Rochester, has amassed more than 1,000 digital-imaging patents, and almost all of today's digital cameras rely on that technology. It has licensed digital-imaging technology to about 30 companies, including mobile-device makers such as Motorola Inc. and Nokia Corp.

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