* Final decision at ITC expected in May
* Shares spike after hours
* Kodak’s IP seen as key business (Updates Apple share activity after-hours)
By Diane Bartz and Noel Randewich
SAN FRANCISCO/WASHINGTON, March 25 (Reuters) - A U.S. trade panel has agreed to review Eastman Kodak Co’s EK.N claim that Research in Motion Ltd RIM.TORIMM.O and Apple Inc (AAPL.O) are infringing on its patents in a case that could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties.
The shares of Kodak -- a company once synonymous with home photography, but now struggling in a world of digital cameras and smartphones -- spiked about 20 percent in extended trading after closing 8.6 percent higher as the company moved closer to a possible payout.
The Washington-based International Trade Commission, which hears many patent cases involving imported products, said on Friday it would review an initial decision by an ITC judge in January that Research in Motion and Apple did not infringe on Kodak’s patents.
Apple declined to comment on the panel’s decision to review the case.
Kodak filed an ITC complaint against Apple and RIM in January 2010, arguing Apple’s iPhone and RIM’s camera-enabled Blackberry infringe on a Kodak patent related to a method for previewing images.
It is asking the ITC to bar the importation of Apple and RIM mobile phones and other wireless devices with digital cameras. A final decision is expected in May.
Kodak’s campaign to protect its intellectual property follows years of expensive restructuring that have been slow to produce results.
Many investors see Kodak’s value in its lucrative portfolio of intellectual property. It has more than 1,000 patents in its trove and in 2010, it made an estimated $630 million from its licenses, according to Argus Research.
Kodak settled similar patent disputes with LG and Samsung in 2009 and 2010. The two South Korean consumer electronics makers agreed to pay Kodak $400 million and $550 million, respectively, to license its technology.
In late January, Eastman Kodak Co reported a larger-than-expected quarterly loss and a 25 percent drop in revenue on poor digital and licensing sales.
Cross Research analyst Shannon Cross said Friday’s decision makes it more likely the companies involved with reach a settlement. But she warned that Kodak would likely receive less in this case because fewer units are involved.
“We note that the vast majority of Kodak’s IP settlements have been one-time payments for perpetual licenses and therefore Kodak has little recurring IP royalty revenue,” she wrote in a note to clients.
She repeated concerns about Kodak’s inkjet and entertainment film businesses.
Kodak call options volume exploded on Friday, with about twice the typical trading, according to Trade Alert. Investors were betting the ITC would stop short of finalizing the earlier ruling, thereby keeping Kodak’s patent claims alive.
Apple’s shares gained 1.9 percent in Friday’s regular Nadsaq session and edged up slightly in after-hours trading following the panel’s announcement.
RIM’s stock dropped 11.23 percent during the session and were mostly flat in after hours trade.
The case at the ITC is 337-703. (Reporting by Noel Randewich; Editing by John Wallace, Andre Grenon and Richard Chang)