updated 12:24 pm EDT, Fri August 17, 2012
Cooperation could defuse potential lawsuits
Apple, Google, Samsung, LG, and an assortment of other firms are bidding as a group on Kodak's digital imaging patents, the Wall Street Journal reports. Sources for the paper say that talks and even the group's composition are fluid. While Apple has often been in conflict with Google and Samsung, and is a rival to LG, the strategy could keep the patents out of any one party's hands, preventing some potential lawsuits. At the same time, the Journal suggests that the companies could potentially run afoul of US antitrust laws.
A deal for the entire Kodak portfolio on auction could be valued at over $500 million based on recent negotiations, the sources say. While the amount is well over opening bids last week, it's also short of what Kodak was once estimating, between $2.2 billion and $2.6 billion.
Kodak has stated that talks with potential patent buyers are still ongoing, and that it isn't ready to announce a result. It could still refuse to sell some or all of the patents, although that may be unlikely, since the motivation for the auction is the company's recent bankruptcy. A high return on the patents could go a long way towards appeasing creditors.
One possible way of avoiding antitrust issues could be agreeing to license patents at modest rates. A recurring issue in recent industry lawsuits has been whether parties are licensing under FRAND (fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory) terms; often, companies which have held out for higher royalties have had rulings turn against them.