The US International Trade Commission has launched an investigation into accusations that Apple's iPhone and RIM's BlackBerry mobiles use camera technology covered in patents owned by Eastman Kodak.

As reported over on InformationWeek, the claim from Eastman Kodak is that the two companies are infringing on its patented technologies in their implementation of integrated digital camera technology in their smartphones.

The complaint was originally filed back in January, at the same time as Kodak also launched federal lawsuits against the two companies. The suits are seeking compensation for the use of its technologies following what the company claims is a breakdown in negotiations; the Trade Commission investigation is an attempt to block the import and sale of allegedly infringing devices until the two companies reach an agreement with Kodak.

The move comes a short time after Kodak reached a cross-licensing agreement with Korean tech giant Samsung after the two companies filed lawsuits against each other for alleged patent infringement - again, with the added threat of a US International Trade Commission investigation into the bargain which was dropped as part of the agreement. Whether there are patents that Research in Motion or Apple hold that could be used as a similar bargaining chip against Kodak remains to be seen.

If found guilty - and if no licensing agreement is reached - an import ban would severely hurt the two companies: with neither producing their handsets within the US, instead opting for cheaper manufacture abroad, Apple and RIM would be effectively shut out of the US smartphone market until the agree to Kodak's demands for compensation.

Thus far neither company has commented on Kodak's accusations of patent infringement.

Do you believe that Kodak has a right to assert its patent rights in this manner, or should the company have tried harder to reach agreements with Apple and RIM before bringing up the threat of an import ban? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

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