Kodak, don’t spend that $1BN just yet

March 26, 2011, 10:32 AM UTC

Winning a skirmish at the ITC is not the same as winning a war. Apple vs. Nokia take note.

Source: FOSS Patents

“Kodak Wins a Round in $1 Billion Apple, RIM Patent Dispute” — Bloomberg News

Traders were pretty quick to cash in on that headline. Kodak’s (EK) battered stock opened Friday at $3.30 a share and jumped nearly 25% to $4.12 in after-hours trading, as if those $1 billion were already in Kodak’s pocket.

But winning a round in a patent dispute at the International Trade Commission is not the same as knocking the guy out, as Apple’s (AAPL) lawyers surely recognized a few hours earlier when an ITC Judge ruled that Apple had not violated five Nokia (NOK) patents.

In the Kodak case, all that happened was a judge agreed to send to a six-member commission for final review a case that had already gone against Kodak twice. The ITC staff had concluded and a chief administrative law judge had determined that Apple and Research in Motion (RIMM) were not in violation of Kodak’s disputed patents. It’s possible that the commission will overrule both the staff and the chief ALJ, but it’s not something Kodak or its investors can bank on.

Apple’s apparent victory over Nokia could also be sent to the commission for review. Moreover, it’s only five patents in a hydra-headed, 75-patent dispute that’s being fought not just at the ITC, but in six other legal venues. See the chart above assembled by FOSS Patents‘ Florian Mueller when he reviewed the legal battlefield in December.

We asked Mueller to comment on Friday’s proceedings. His reply below the fold.

“The decision to review the initial determination in the Kodak investigation
shows that fortunes can change at any stage of an ITC process. That’s why I
warned in November against overrating a staff recommendation against Apple:
after the staff recommendation, there’s the determination made by the
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), and even the ALJ’s determination can still
be reviewed until the Commission decides at the highest level.

“With that example in mind, it’s important to consider that even in the Nokia
vs. Apple investigation the final decision need not be identical to the
ALJ’s initial determination. In many cases it is, and I’m sure Apple is very
happy about it. Also, even if all of Nokia’s claims against Apple should be
dismissed by the ITC, it might happen the other way round as well, in which
case they’d have to fight it out in the US district courts as well as the
European courts in which they are suing each other.”

On Sunday, Mueller took a detailed look at the current state of Apple vs. Nokia. You can read it here.

Also on Fortune.com:

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]