Apple, Google Team Up To Buy $500M Kodak Patents

By Alexandra Burlacu | Dec 09, 2012 11:49 AM EST

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Common goals have prompted Apple and Google to join forces and fight on the same side, at least for a little while.

Kodak's ongoing bankruptcy means the company's patent trove is up for grabs, and the two tech giants are now "frenemies" in a bid to get those patents.

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According to a Bloomberg report, citing "people familiar with the situation," Apple and Google have joined forces to offer more than $500 million to buy Kodak's patents out of bankruptcy.

When bidding first started this summer, the two tech giants led two separate teams: Apple's consortium included Microsoft and patent holdings firm Intellectual Ventures, while Google's team included RPX Corp. and a number of Asian handset manufacturers. It was also believed at the time that HTC and Samsung were on Google's side.

After leading the two separate teams, Apple and Google have now decided it might be a better idea to partner up to buy some of Kodak's 1,100 imaging patents, sources told Bloomberg.

While Apple and Google are notoriously fighting for dominance of the smartphone market, patent sales often lead to such unlikely partnerships, as they allow rivals to neutralize potential infringement litigation.

Last year, a group that included Apple, Microsoft, and Research in Motion (RIM) bought more than 6,000 patents out of bankruptcy from Nortel Network Corp., for $4.5 billion. Google also bid for those patents, but lost the auction after making an initial offer of $900 million.

"Apple and Google learned a lesson from the Nortel's auction," Richard Ehrlickman, former vice president of Intellectual Property at International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) and president of patent  brokerage and consulting firm IP Offerings, told Bloomberg. "They have decided to come together in this process to reduce the cost of purchasing Kodak patents, while meeting their business needs."

Before Apple and Google joined forces, the two separate teams they led had separately offered less than $500 million for Kodak's patent portfolio. Now, according to two of the people briefed on the matter, the two companies can offer more together.

Spokespeople for Google and Apple have declined to comment on the patent sale, while Kodak spokesman Christopher Veronda cited a court-ordered confidentiality agreement.

Kodak's patents relate to the capture, manipulation, and sharing of digital images. The company is selling its patent trove to fund a turnaround after seeking Chapter 11 protection back in January 2012. Kodak is also pursuing a new strategy to shrink the company and focus less on photography, turning its interests to commercial, packaging and functional printing and enterprise services.

The patents for sale may be worth $2.21 billion to $2.57 billion, Kodak said in court documents. That amount is based on an estimate by patent advisory firm 284 Partners LLC. Kodak further said it has raised more than $3 billion in revenue by licensing some of the digital-imaging patents to users, including Samsung, LG, Google's Motorola Mobility unit, and Nokia Oyj. According to Ehrlickman, the patent portfolio is worth much less particularly because it has been widely licensed.

Kodak listed $5.1 billion in assets and $6.75 billion in debt in its bankruptcy filing, and plans to exit bankruptcy in the first half of 2013.



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