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Mum is word for Kodak on patent deals

Eastman Kodak Co., seeking to generate cash from its intellectual property, has signed confidentiality agreements with numerous potential buyers of patents that it put up for sale last month, CEO Antonio M. Perez says.

"At the moment we announced that, the phone started to ring," Perez said Monday in an interview. Lazard LLC, Kodak's adviser, has "contacted a large number of people. There are a number of people who signed their NDAs," he said, referring to nondisclosure agreements protecting details about inventions covered by the patents.

Kodak, headed for its sixth annual loss in the last seven years, is trying to generate cash for its inkjet printers and other digital businesses that Perez is counting on to turn the company around. The U.S. International Trade Commission has delayed a ruling on Kodak's attempts to win $1 billion in licensing fees from Apple Inc. and Research in Motion Ltd. for image-preview technology used in cameras.

The patents may attract bids from Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Samsung Electronics, said Christopher A. Marlett, founder and CEO of MDB Capital Group, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based investment bank specializing in intellectual property.

The patents may help smartphone makers improve cameras on their devices while enhancing the ability of Internet companies to identify images, Marlett said Tuesday.

Kristin Huguet, an Apple spokeswoman, declined to comment, as did spokesmen Kevin Kutz of Microsoft and Jim Prosser of Google. Chris Goodhart, a Samsung spokeswoman, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Perez, CEO since 2005, said he is seeking patent deals that would give Kodak cash upfront, as well as preserve licensing rights to its technology.

"All of this litigation takes a lot of time, and it's very expensive and demands a lot of my time," Perez said. "We would rather get an infusion of cash in advance, being able to have a series of relationships with many of those companies that otherwise we'd have to be in legal conflict with."

The 1,100-plus patents that Kodak put up for sale July 20 may generate more than $2 billion, according to MDB.

"What we are selling is the part of the portfolio that does not apply to the core investments and the future of the company," said Perez, who declined to disclose potential bidders and specifics of negotiations.

He said Rochester-based Kodak is trying to tap a "very hot" market for intellectual property.

Google, the biggest maker of smartphone software, agreed to buy Motorola Mobility Holdings for $12.5 billion this month. Google had earlier bid for more than 6,000 of Nortel Networks' patents and applications, losing out to a $4.5 billion offer from a group including Apple, Research in Motion and Microsoft.

"This is the right time," Perez said. "The conversations are going. We are hoping quickly to get to a good conclusion."

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