December 23, 2010

Patent Dispute Threatens Other Photo Sites

The negative outcome from a patent dispute between Kodak and online photo-sharing site Shutterfly could spread to other online image sites, patent experts warn.

Kodak says it owns patents regarding the display of online images that Shutterfly is infringing upon. Shutterfly disputes these claims and has launched a countersuit.

The significant case could have ramifications for other photo-sharing sites such as Flickr and Google's Picasa.

While other cases have been launched in recent years claiming patent breaches of online photo sites, this is the first time such a large, well-established company has sought to assert its rights over online images, Deborah Bould, a specialist in intellectual property at law firm Pinsent Masons, told BBC News.

Kodak's decision to bring legal proceedings against Shutterfly will put other online photo companies on high alert, Bould said. "The patents Kodak holds are incredibly broad, effectively covering images that are stored centrally and can be ordered online."

That is likely to mean Kodak will go after other image sites it believes has also infringed on its patents, she added.

Kodak said it has over 400 similar patents.

"We are committed to protecting these assets from unauthorized use," Kodak said in a statement.

Given the high cost of patent lawsuit cases, many smaller firms may choose to license Kodak's technology rather than fight them in court, said Theo Savvides, head of intellectual property at Osborne Clarke.

But those firms who have deeper pockets, such as Google and Yahoo, would most likely challenge Kodak's claims and drag it out in court, he told BBC.

Such challenges would likely focus on the legitimacy of Kodak's patents, said Bould. The case could hinge on Kodak's ability to prove that when it filed the patents they covered technology that was genuinely innovative, she added.

Digital photography has hit Kodak hard, but it had recently shown a greater motivation to assert its rights for technology it believes intrude on its patents.

Kodak earlier this year, said it would also bring lawsuits against Apple and Research in Motion over technology used in their handsets.


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