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ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Innovation turned Eastman Kodak Co. into one of the world's most recognizable brands. Imitation by its rivals might help keep the picture-taking pioneer from fading into history.
The 131-year-old firm, which popularized photography beginning with Brownie box cameras in 1900, is seeking a lucrative patent-infringement triumph this week over iPhone behemoth Apple Inc. and BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd.
A hoped-for Kodak moment before a trade-dispute arbiter would at least temporarily ease the intensifying pressure on the maker of cameras, film, and printers. Kodak, slow to phase out its 20th-century cash cow of celluloid film, is still trying to redefine itself as a 21st-century powerhouse in digital imaging.
Mining its rich array of inventions has become crucial for Kodak's push to reverse four years of losses and return to profitability in 2012.
Kodak has a promising array of inkjet printing, packaging, and software businesses, but it needs to tap other revenue sources before investments in those areas have time to pay off.
Kodak's patents give it exclusive rights to sell or license its inventions. Since 2008, Kodak has generated almost $2 billion in licensing fees and royalties from intellectual-property battles, both in negotiations and through courts. The firm's dispute with Apple and RIM centers on technology Kodak patented in 2001 for extracting a still image while previewing it in a camera's LCD screen.
Chief Executive Antonio Perez estimates that Kodak could get up to $1 billion from the two companies over the life of the patent if Kodak gets a favorable ruling Thursday before the U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington.
Because the federal agency can block imports of patent-infringing products, a Kodak victory could force Apple and RIM to spend hundreds of millions in fees to bring in smartphones made overseas.
Kodak has amassed 11,000 patents over decades. The firm invented the world's first digital camera in 1975.