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It's truly amazing how quickly Eastman Kodak (NYSE: EK ) has declined in just 10 years. It was once the king of photography, but the emergence of digital cameras and the commoditization of most things digital has left Kodak strapped for cash and struggling to find its niche in a digital world. A company that was regularly profitable and once employed 70,000 people is now struggling to survive after turning only one full-year profit in the past seven years.
Nowadays, the only bright spots Kodak shareholders have to look forward to are its (for now) rapidly growing inkjet-printer business and its patent-infringement lawsuits. Well, last night another wheel fell off the wagon.
The U.S. International Trade Commission issued primarily bearish news for Kodak optimists after it agreed with a judge who previously dismissed claims that Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) and Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) infringed on Kodak's patents. Although not a complete loss -- the commission did find that Apple and RIM partially infringed -- the chance that Kodak will recover $1 billion, which is what the company was aiming for, seems very unlikely.
In recent years, Kodak has become very reliant on its patent revenue to counteract its quickly dwindling cash position. Last year, the company received $964 million when Samsung and LG Electronics settled a lawsuit similar to the one Kodak currently has against Apple and RIM. In 2010, of the $7.19 billion Kodak had in reported revenue, $838 million came from patent revenue. Remove that anticipated revenue stream, and you'd see that the company may be in worse shape than initially thought.
Just last week, I proposed a few unconventional ideas to turn Kodak around, but after yesterday's ruling I'm not even sure they'd still work. Kodak has been late to the game at nearly every step. The company stubbornly held on to film when others had switched to digital. Then the company failed to anticipate that most digital photo products would be commoditized. By the time the company innovates, competitors have already moved onto the next step.
I still see value in the legacy of the Kodak name brand, and I think we'd be ignorant to assume that Kodak's thousands of patents are worthless. But I am beginning to rapidly lose faith in Kodak's ability to turn things around. Relying too heavily on patent revenue could wind up being another step toward Kodak's downfall.
For now, we'll watch and wait yet another two months for the ITC's final ruling on the Apple and RIM lawsuit, but I'd suggest you consider your contingency plans in the meantime if you're an Eastman Kodak shareholder.
Is Kodak a stock for the future or is the company stuck in still-frame? Share your opinion in the comments section below, and consider adding Eastman Kodak to your personal watchlist to keep up on the latest happenings with the company.