The International Trade Commission said it launched an investigation of Research In Motion and Apple smartphones that contain digital cameras after receiving a complaint from Eastman Kodak Co.
The trade body on Wednesday said it voted to open an investigation after Kodak alleged patent infringement by Canada's Research In Motion Ltd, maker of BlackBerry smartphones, and Apple Inc, maker of the iPhone.
The products at issue in this investigation are smartphones with built-in cameras, the agency said in a statement.
Kodak, which makes digital cameras and inkjet printers, filed its complaint on January 14.
Representatives of RIM, based in Waterloo, Ontario, and Apple, of Cupertino, California, were not immediately available for comment.
The ITC said it has not made any decision on the merits of the case, which will be assigned to one of six administrative law judges.
Kodak filed two suits in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York against Apple that claim infringement of patents related to digital cameras and certain computer processes.
Kodak, hit hard by the economic downturn as consumers eschew photo-taking vacations and businesses delay purchasing printing systems, has cultivated its patent portfolio into an important source of revenue.
In October, the company said it sees licensing revenue averaging at least $250 million to $350 million each year for the next several years. Kodak had revenues of about $9.4 billion in 2008 and is expected to detail 2009 results later this month.
Kodak said it wants compensation for the use of the technology and is open to talks with Apple and RIM. But it is asking the ITC to prevent Apple and RIM from importing infringing devices, including certain mobile telephones and wireless communication devices featuring digital cameras.
The ITC has become a popular venue for patent litigation because it has the power to bar the import of items made with infringing technology.
The U.S. ITC case number is 337-TA-703.
(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Additional reporting by John Poirier, Euan Rocha in Toronto, Gabriel Madway in San Francisco and Sinead Carew in New York; Editing by Tim Dobbyn, Gary Hill)