Monday, July 23, 2012

Federal Circuit upholds dismissal of Apple's ITC complaint against Kodak

On Friday, the ITC threw out Eastman Kodak's patent complaint against Apple and RIM. Kodak has meanwhile vowed to appeal that decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Today, the Federal Circuit ruled against Apple's ITC countersuit against Kodak by affirming an ITC ruling form a year ago that didn't hold Kodak to violate two Apple patents (U.S. Patent No. 6,031,964 on a "system and method for using a unified memory architecture to implement a digital camera device" and RE38,911 on "modular digital image processing via an image processing chain with modifiable parameter controls").

Today's Federal Circuit ruling doesn't hurt Apple too much, for two reasons:

  1. By now, Kodak is almost a patent troll: as a failed business, it primarily wants to monetize its own patents to the detriment of companies that build successful products. As a result, any findings that Kodak's own products infringed or continue to infringe third-party patents won't affect Kodak's pursuit of patent litigation to the extent that it would work against a company that primarily wants to make and sell products.

  2. The two Apple patents at issue in this ITC investigation are digital camera patents that Apple used against Kodak but hasn't asserted against Android device makers as far as I can see. Therefore, the decision doesn't affect litigation pending against other companies.

It's generally harder to get an ITC decision reversed than to successfully appeal a district court decision. As a government agency, the ITC enjoys a fair amount of deference in connection with its findings, and a huge amount as far as the interpretation of Section 337, the statute governing the ITC, is concerned. But the ITC isn't unassailable. A significant number of decisions that the ITC made on some high-profile smartphone patent cases may be overruled on appeal. A large number of issues decided by the ITC in cases involving players like Apple, HTC, Microsoft and Motorola have been appealed, but decisions on those appeals will most likely come down in 2013 (only Apple's appeal of the decision on its complaint against HTC might be adjudicated before the end of this year).

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