Kodak working on a comeback thanks to swathes of unused patents

23 Mar 2015

Photography giant of yesteryear, Kodak – made bankrupt in 2012 – is targeting an innovative comeback.

With decades of patents knocking around its offices, Kodak sits on a potential goldmine of ideas, with chief executive Jeff Clarke gambling it all on landing that one big idea.

It’s a reaction to Kodak’s dismal demise, failing to modernise when photography went digital, being better positioned to do so than anyone else.

Essentially “mining” the company’s catalogue of patents, Clarke has a team trawling through the archives, trying to find workable, scalable projects.

Some of these, as reported by Quentin Hardy in the New York Times, include new phone screens, “nanoparticle wonder inks” and cheap sensors that can indicate when foodstuffs go bad.

“I’m mining the history of this company for its underlying technologies […] We missed enormous opportunities,” he says of his company’s sensors, developed years ago yet never capitalised on.

Two years ago Kodak sold off over 1,000 patents to companies like Apple, Samsung and Facebook for US$527m. Clarke is hoping that, of the 7,000 remaining patents, there’s a big fish to be caught.

“The kind of printing at which Kodak excels can spin out newspapers at a blinding rate, or create customised beer boxes with team logos for big games,” explains Hardy.

“The digital imaging roots are in things like coatings, stretching as far back as Kodak’s business developing people’s mailed-in snapshots. The ink particles for superhigh-resolution printing are as small as one one-thousandth the width of a human hair.”

It would be remarkable if Kodak could rescale the technological heights of today’s industry, but when there’s such a history of innovation in a company that was turning over US$19bn in 1990, you never know.

Kodak image, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic