Kodak Plans to Hold Patent Fire Sale

by James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

It’s so sad to see the once high and mighty not only fall, but to sell their treasures in order to survive.  That’s the case with Kodak, who has filed notice of an intent to auction their digital imaging patents.

“The proposed structure of the auction is tailored to the special nature of the assets,” said Timothy M. Lynch, Kodak Vice President and Chief Intellectual Property Officer. “The bidding procedures are designed to allow bidders to give us their best offers without fear of showing their cards to competitors. In filing these proposed procedures in advance of the June 30 deadline in our lending agreement, we are moving ahead as quickly as possible with the process of monetizing our digital imaging patent portfolio.”

Kodak plans for a ““competitive auction of digital imaging patents” to be held in early August.  But the over 1200 patents will not be auctioned off piecemeal.  The trove has been evenly split into two bulk item sets which will go to the highest bidder.

It has been leaked that over 20 companies are planning on competing for Kodak’s digital intellectual property when they go under the gavel in early August.  But the plans for the fire sale, which were announced last January, are contingent on the US Bankruptcy court judge who is overseeing Kodak’s chapter 11 bankruptcy.  A hearing to determine the validity of Kodak’s plans in light of their heavy debt burden is scheduled for late July, and at the end of the day, Kodak’s portfolio of patents is really the only thing of value left of the once might photography company which has been unable to evolve in the digital world.

Established in 1880 by George Eastman, Kodak was the dominant force in photography for nearly 120 years.  Who doesn’t remember having a Kodak Instamatic camera as a kid?  Or those pencil thin 110 cameras?  And I still have a soft spot in my heart for Tri-X black and white film.

Then there was the Kodak instant print film, which was actually better than Polaroid’s, but a landmark copyright ruling against them forced Kodak to kill the instant print camera.  Still, they had their 35mm film and motion picture business, and processing of film that kept the company solvent until the digital age swept through them like the plague.

In the early 2000s, struggling to evolve in a competitive digital camera marketplace, Kodak faltered with several cameras which simply didn’t make the grade.  And by the time they had created several digital pixel technologies which could have made the company competitive, it was too little, too late.

“Kodak is taking a significant step toward enabling our enterprise to complete its transformation,” said Antonio M. Perez, the company’s chief executive “At the same time as we have created our digital business, we have also already effectively exited certain traditional operations, closing 13 manufacturing plants and 130 processing labs, and reducing our workforce by 47,000 since 2003. Now we must complete the transformation by further addressing our cost structure and effectively monetizing non-core I.P. assets.”

Then, Kodak turned to filing patent lawsuits in an effort to generate income lost by the extinction of it’s film business which has left them over a billion dollars in debt.  And now, at the end of a long, slow death, Kodak filed for bankruptcy on January and is now planning to sell off the only assets which it was aggressively using to make any money.

The two parcels are divided into 1) the digital imaging package which includes 700 patents, covering key aspects of image capture, processing, and transmission technologies, and 2)  it’s “KISS” package which covers over 400 patents for technologies including image analysis, manipulation and tagging, and network-based services, including image storage, access, and fulfillment.

And should the bankruptcy court approve the fire sale, Kodak will join it’s one time rival Polaroid as a name plate brand which will be sold and placed on third party equipment.  And then we’ll see things like Kodak brand tablet computers and television sets, and other gadgets which George Eastman never thought his fabled company would stoop too.

Heartbreaking, actually.

Hat Tip – The Digital Visual

About James DeRuvo

James has a multi-faceted career that spans radio, film and publishing. A writer about the technology in the video industry for nearly 20 years, James is also an award winning film director, having garnered a Telly Award for his short film Searching for Inspiration. He's also worked as a producer of many talk radio programs in Los Angeles with topics ranging from entertainment to travel to technology.