Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Samsung Join to Buy Kodak Patents

A dozen or so well-known tech companies together have bought bankrupt Kodak's digital-imaging patents for a fire-sale price of $527 million.

Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Samsung headline a well-known group of technology companies that have joined together to buy the digital-imaging patent assets of the Eastman Kodak, which have been up for sale through bankruptcy proceedings.

The sale, for $527 million, was approved Jan. 11 by Judge Allan L. Gropper of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal. The transaction, which brought in far less money than Kodak expected to receive to repay its debtors, will take about 45 days to close because several international approvals are required, according to the report.

Also included in the group buying the patents are Adobe Systems, Research in Motion, HTC, Fujifilm Holdings., Huawei Technologies, and Shutterfly, the paper reported. Prior to the sale, Kodak had been attempting to sell its digital-imaging patents for about $2 billion.

"A lawyer for Kodak's official committee of unsecured creditors said that while the $527 million price is disappointing, it provides 'much-needed liquidity' to the case," according to the story.

The Kodak digital-imaging patents involve technologies used in digital cameras, smartphones and tablet computers.

Kodak, which filed for bankruptcy in January 2012, has been working to shed unprofitable business units as it streamlines its operations to survive in a market that has drastically changed since it ruled the world of film throughout most of the 20th century. Kodak has dropped the production of much of its famous film stocks and is still working to find itself again in a market in which digital photography now dominates.

Reports in December 2012 first alluded to the consortium of tech companies that were looking to join together to buy the Kodak patents for a song.

That started when Apple and Google apparently chose to put their intense, often cutthroat rivalry aside to work together with others to go after the Kodak patents. Each had tried separately in the past to obtain the patents from Kodak for less money, but were unsuccessful.

That Google and Apple could team up suggests a healing of old wounds, a desire to stay out of court later—should one or the other win the portfolio—or simply the attractiveness of the patents. In 2011, Apple rounded up a posse that collectively outbid Google for 6,000 Nortel Networks patents related to 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE), wireless, networking and social software.

Companies are often busy buying patents from others or licensing patents from others to help their own operations. And patent fights have been big news in the technology marketplace for some time, particularly Apple and Samsung, which have been fighting big battles over patents in smartphones and tablet computers. Apple won a $1 billion patent-infringement ruling from Samsung in a U.S. court in August 2012, which remains the subject of legal proceedings.

The Google-Apple rivalry, it's been suggested, was also more intense when the late Steve Jobs was in charge of Apple. While Google CEO Larry Page once suggested that Jobs' ire toward Google was more for show than out of anything heartfelt, Jobs told his biographer, Walter Isaacson, otherwise.

"I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank to right this wrong," Jobs said, according to Isaacson. "I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product."