Eastman Kodak is suing Apple and Research In Motion, claiming their camera-enabled smartphones infringe on its patents and asking for US imports of the handsets to be stopped.
The camera maker has filed a complaint with the US International Trade Commission (ITC) against the companies, which alleges that iPhones and camera-enabled BlackBerry devices violate its patent for colour image previewing, Kodak said on Thursday.
It has also lodged two separate patent lawsuits against Apple in the US District Court for the Western District of New York, one focusing on colour image previewing and processing and the other on digital-camera and computer-process technology.
"Kodak has a long history of digital-imaging innovation, and we have invested hundreds of millions of dollars creating our industry-leading patent portfolio," Laura Quatela, the company's intellectual property chief, said in a statement.
"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."
Quatela stressed that Kodak's main interest is to get compensation for the use of its technology, and not to have the products withdrawn from the US market. Nonetheless, it has asked the ITC to prevent Apple and RIM from importing allegedly "infringing devices" into the US.
The colour image-preview patent (US patent number 6,292,218) at the centre of Kodak's legal actions underpinned a separate dispute with Samsung that was settled recently. On 17 December, the ITC ruled that Samsung was infringing on that patent with its cameraphones. Kodak and Samsung dropped their legal actions against each other on Monday, when they announced a cross-licensing deal.
According to Kodak, other licensees of its digital-imaging technology include LG, Motorola, Nokia and Sony Ericsson.
One of Kodak's lawsuits against Apple in US District Court covers that technology. In the other, the company claims the iPhone infringes on digital camera data-manipulation technology (US patent numbers 5,206,951; 5,421,012; and 5,226,161).
The patents describe "a method by which a computer program can 'ask for help' from another application to carry out certain computer-oriented functions", Kodak said.
These patents were previously at the centre of a legal battle between Kodak and Sun — in that case, a federal jury found in 2004 that Sun's Java technology infringed the patents, and the companies subsequently settled.
"In both district court actions against Apple, Kodak is seeking to permanently enjoin Apple from further infringement as well as unspecified damages," Kodak said in its statement on Thursday. Quatela is also quoted as saying Kodak remains open to "negotiating a fair and amicable agreement with both Apple and RIM".
Neither RIM nor Apple had responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.