There's gold in the old patent portfolios of Eastman Kodak (NYSE:EK). After "discussions for years" with Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM), Kodak says it couldn't come to a fair license agreement with the iPhone and BlackBerry makers, and now has to take the matter to court.

Kodak's legal actions include one patent infringement lawsuit against RIM and Apple with the International Trade Commission, and two separate suits against Apple in federal courts over various technologies related to image previews in digital cameras. The suits build upon a legal decision from the U.S. International Trade Commission a month ago, in which Korean electronics giant Samsung was found to have stepped on Kodak's patented toes in the field of digital-camera technology.

The Samsung suit had been in motion since November of 2008, and the ITC decision was followed by a swift cross-licensing agreement and a cash payment to Kodak. The camera veteran has already licensed the patents at issue to companies like Nokia (NYSE:NOK), Motorola (NYSE:MOT), and Sony Ericsson, so it seems only fair to expect similar deals with holdouts like RIM and Apple.

While I don't expect these lawsuits to make a material impact on the earnings of any of these companies, the action underscores the value of Kodak's patents. Ending another long-running infringement suit, Kodak sold its OLED technology patents to LG Group (for use by its subsidiary LG Display (NYSE:LPL)) last December for an undisclosed sum.

After 108 years of operating history with a very active research department, Kodak is sitting on a treasure trove of enforceable patents and is not afraid to break out the legal bullwhip to make sure it gets paid.

Eastman can still look forward to a few Kodak moments of its own, probably including tidy license payments from RIM and Apple. It might just take a while to collect those checks, is all.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. He did own Kodak stock as a young investor, but sold when the company started to drown in digital cameras. Nokia is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.