U.S. agency to probe Kodak claim against RIM, Apple

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The International Trade Commission said it launched an investigation of Research In Motion and Apple smartphones that contain digital cameras after receiving a complaint from Eastman Kodak Co.

An Apple iPhone is shown with the Beejive IM (instant messaging) software during "CES Unveiled," a media preview event, at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada January 5, 2010. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

The trade body said on Wednesday it voted to open an investigation after Kodak alleged patent infringement by Canada’s Research In Motion Ltd, maker of BlackBerry smartphones, and Apple Inc, maker of the iPhone.

“The products at issue in this investigation are smartphones with built-in cameras,” the agency said in a statement.

Kodak, which makes digital cameras and inkjet printers, filed its complaint with the ITC on January 14.

That same day, Kodak filed two lawsuits in U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York against Apple that allege infringement of patents related to the image preview and image size functions of digital cameras, and certain computer processes.

Representatives of RIM, based in Waterloo, Ontario, and Apple, of Cupertino, California, were not immediately available for comment.

Kodak said it wants compensation for the use of its technology and is open to talks with Apple and RIM. But it is asking the ITC to prevent Apple and RIM from importing infringing devices, including certain mobile telephones and wireless communication devices featuring digital cameras.

The ITC has become a popular venue for patent litigation because it has the power to bar the import of items made with infringing technology.

Kodak, hit hard by the economic downturn as consumers eschew photo-taking vacations and businesses delay purchasing printing systems, has cultivated its patent portfolio into an important source of revenue.

In October, the company said it sees licensing revenue averaging at least $250 million to $350 million each year for the next several years. Kodak had revenues of about $9.4 billion in 2008 and is expected to detail 2009 results later this month.

The U.S. ITC case number is 337-TA-703.

The lawsuits are Eastman Kodak v Apple, U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, Nos. 10-6021 and 10-6022

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Additional reporting by John Poirier, Euan Rocha in Toronto, Gabriel Madway in San Francisco and Sinead Carew in New York; Editing by Tim Dobbyn, Gary Hill