It's a pretty typical reaction if someone punches you to punch them back. I didn't even grow up with any brothers or sisters, but I still know that's an unwritten rule that might as well be set in stone.
The same goes for the business world. There's only so much pushing and shoving you can do with some of the biggest names on Wall Street before they begin to fight back. That's exactly the way Apple (NAS: AAPL) felt when it asked for permission yesterday from the New York City bankruptcy court to file a countersuit against Eastman Kodak (OTC: EKDKQ) for copyright infringement. Although Apple doesn't need a judge's approval to file the lawsuit, it is asking nonetheless "out of an abundance of caution."
Specifically, Apple is targeting alleged violations of its technology used in Kodak's printers, digital cameras, and digital picture frames. Does this sound familiar at all? Well it should, because Kodak filed a similar lawsuit against Apple and Research In Motion (NAS: RIMM) in January 2010 alleging that its preview-imaging patents were being infringed upon. Just last month, Kodak also filed a lawsuit against Apple, HTC, Fujifilm, and Samsung over image-transmitting patents that it feels are being infringed upon by these companies' smartphones and tablets.
This isn't Kodak's first time with patent infringement lawsuits. CEO Antonio Perez has made suing rivals a core business strategy for the past few years. It successfully reached a settlement with LG Electronics in 2009 and Samsung in 2010 (regarding a different patent than in the lawsuit filed last month), but has not had the same success with the strategy against Apple and RIM.
In an even odder twist, despite the ongoing patent dispute with Apple and RIM, as part of Kodak's restructuring effort, it plans to completely abandon the digital camera market and instead go toe-to-toe with Hewlett-Packard (NYS: HPQ) in making printers. It's not surprising that the company is ultimately headed in that direction given that Perez surrounded himself with many former HP officers.
With roughly 1,100 patents currently in its portfolio, and only one small deal recently struck with IMAX (NAS: IMAX) to license some of its cinematic patent technology, Kodak is going to have no choice but to begin unloading some (or all) of its digital-imaging patents at some point. The IMAX deal isn't big enough to move the needle and shouldn't be seen as a boon for the future. A victory over RIM, Apple, or both would definitely strengthen the price it receives for its patent portfolio -- but I wouldn't count on that happening.
Kodak decided to play with the industry bull, and now it's getting the horns. Needless to say, it's going to be interesting to see how this shoving match plays out.
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At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. He still believes in the "you punch me, I punch back" philosophy. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple and IMAX, as well as creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy that believes in pacifism.
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