Kodak and Sony end patent dispute

ROCHESTER, NY, AND TOKYO, JAPAN-Eastman Kodak Company ended a long-time patent dispute with Sony over digital-camera technology.

ROCHESTER, NY, AND TOKYO, JAPAN-Eastman Kodak Company ended a long-time patent dispute with Sony over digital-camera technology. The two companies have entered into a technology cross-license agreement that will allow each company broad access to the other’s patent portfolio.

Kodak has also entered into a technology cross license with Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB (London, England) that will allow Sony Ericsson access to Kodak technology for Sony Ericsson’s products. Kodak will also have access to Sony Ericsson’s technology. The license agreements are royalty-bearing to Kodak. Additional financial terms were not disclosed.

Once the undisputed king of the consumer-camera world, Kodak saw its business in photographic film and instant cameras decline from the late 1980s on, first as foreign film manufacturers ate into its market share, and then as digital-camera technology took hold. But, with years of heavy technical development in both CCD and CMOS technology, Kodak has staked a claim in the digital-camera market, vying against the Japanese consumer-electronics giants-and producing hundreds of relevant patents in the meantime.

Steven Sasson of Kodak developed the first digital camera back in 1970; the device had 10,000 pixels and took 23 seconds to capture an image. It was based on a CCD sensor fabricated at Fairchild Semiconductor. In 1991, Kodak introduced the first portable commercial digital camera, which had a 1024 x 1280 pixel array that was 20.5 x 16.4 mm in size; although the imaging area was smaller than that of 35 mm film, the camera used standard single-lens-reflex camera lenses. Around the same time, Bryce Bayer at Kodak invented the Bayer-filter mosaic configuration of color pixels, which contains twice as many green pixels as red or blue, allowing for a square geometrical layout as well as imitation of the human eye’s color sensitivities. The Bayer pattern was used on Kodak’s second commercially introduced digital camera and is commonly used today.

Kodak sued Sony in 2004, claiming that the company infringed on ten of Kodak’s patents, the earliest dating back to 1987. The technology areas included image compression and others central to the operation of digital cameras. Sony denied any wrongdoing, and within weeks brought out a countersuit, accusing Kodak of infringing on ten of Sony’s own patents. The conclusion of the dispute between Sony and Kodak not only allows the companies to trade their technology; it also marks a formal end to the patent litigation.

-John Wallace

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