Polaroid, Kodak, and a Complete Disregard of the Patent System

F0947_TriumphGenius-238x238A Triumph of Genius details the epic patent battle between Polaroid and Kodak over the technology behind instant photography. This book is fascinating for two reasons. First, the legal battle is a classic example of corporate arrogance on Kodak’s part. Kodak recognized they might have difficulty with Polaroid’s patents but deluded themselves into believing that all of Polaroid’s patents were invalid. Simple statistics says this is unlikely. Even when Polaroid offered to settle with what appeared to be a reasonable offer, Kodak insisted on dragging the battle to the bitter end. And a bitter end it was. It cost Kodak more than $1 billion dollars (yes that is billion with a b). Even today, this payment remains the largest payment in a patent infringement case.

The second fascinating aspect to the legal case is its complete irrelevance. At the time of the trial, instant film was on its way out, soon to be replaced by a new era of digital photography. Not even a billion dollars could save Polaroid from the market forces of changing technologies. Today, Polaroid is a shell of its former self. It exists only to market products developed by other companies, and Kodak has not fared much better. After inventing the digital camera, Kodak took a backseat to others in the digital industry, convinced that it needed to protect the sales of conventional film.

Over the years I have heard bits and pieces from this trial at industry conferences, but until now I have never been able to put the events in perspective. Now, thanks to Ronald Fierstein I have a a good perspective on what happened to Kodak and Polaroid and why it happened.

About Mark Mizen

I have over twenty years professional experience in all aspects of photography and digital imaging. I am Chair of the ISO WG5 TG2 committee responsible for physical properties and durability of imaging material and am currently with HID Global working on systems for security printing for IDs, licenses, and credit cards. Previously, I was Director of Digital Development at Creative Memories from 2009 to 2012 and was responsible for the Creative Memories digital products and services. I also established and directed the Creative Memories Technology Center, which evaluated new products prior to product introduction, assisted with production difficulties, and provided technical information to support product sales.
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1 Response to Polaroid, Kodak, and a Complete Disregard of the Patent System

  1. Pingback: Poor Leadership Leads to Disaster | All About Images Blog

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