updated 08:00 pm EDT, Tue August 30, 2011
Kodak hints likely to sell patents off
Kodak on Tuesday mentioned that it was seeing very strong interest after raising the possible selloff of its patents. The "phone started to ring" almost immediately afterwards and had led to a significant number already having signed non-disclosure agreements for secret negotiations. While CEO Antonio Perez wouldn't name customers, he told Bloomberg that Kodak wanted a deal with cash up front as well as a pact that let it keep a license to use the primarily phone-focused camera technology that it would otherwise be giving away.
All of the patents were ones that weren't vital to the company's primary camera business.
A number of companies are considered frontrunners for bidding based on their previous conflicts with Kodak. Apple and RIM may both want to make a play if they have any beliefs they might lose to Kodak in an ongoing ITC trade dispute, possibly paying less for the patents than they would by accepting a loss. LG, Motorola, and others who previously had to make patent deals with Kodak under the threat of a lawsuit may similarly be interested. Google might take the step to bolster its still-young patent catalog.
Any acquirer might also be interested in using the patents to apply pressure to others with either direct lawsuits or by using them as shields should a rival sue first. Patent ownership has quickly grown into a competitive weapon, leading to as much as $4.5 billion spent in an Apple-led bid on Nortel patents and Google's response through buying Motorola for $12.5 billion, primarily as an attempt to protect Android from lawsuits.
Kodak has been widely criticized for its own approach to patents. It was hoping to get $1 billion in one year alone from winning against Apple and RIM. The company took to either making royalty deals or forcing them with lawsuits after it decided it couldn't compete solely on the merits of its struggling camera and printer lines.