FilmLight has settled a longstanding patent infringement lawsuit with Kodak over the use of infrared dust-busting technologies in film scanners.
In 2004, Kodak acquired Texas-based Applied Science Fiction (ASF), which gave the company a portfolio of patents covering such things as the use of an infrared light source in slide scanners, defect mapping, and image-concealment and image-correction techniques.
Kodak had been seeking a $25,000-a-year license fee from post houses for its Digital ICE automated concealment package, which comes bundled with infrared hardware in IR-enabled film scanners such as Arri’s ArriScan.
But FilmLight had been offering its Northlight 2 with a generic infrared alpha channel, without the controversial license fee, and without the whole Digital ICE package.
The idea of using an infrared light source to detect dirt and scratches during the scanning process has been in use since the 80s when the BBC developed infrared dust and scratch detection systems for telecine equipment. FilmLight contended that Northlight’s infrared system drew a direct lineage from that technology, and that that “prior art” invalidated Kodak’s patent claim.
“We have settled, but it’s not that we agreed that they were right or anything like that,” said Filmlight’s director Wolfgang Lempp. “It’s just acknowledging that after two years, the landscape has changed. And that because there was so much uncertainty in the industry it made infrared almost disappear… It had lost value for a lot of the customers.”
Plus, in the interim, software-based dust-busting systems from companies such as MTI, Digital Vision, The Foundry and The Pixel Farm have come a long way. “Obviously for us as a small company we didn’t want to carry on with lawyers fees,” added Lempp. “In spite of the fact that over this time we have found a lot of evidence for ‘prior art,’ and as far as we’re concerned it’s pretty much a clear-cut case… But it was reasonable to say, ‘OK, let’s forget about the past. Let’s move forward and come to an agreement that satisfies Kodak’s requirements.’ It’s up to them to see whether they can make some money out of it. If it’s not valuable anymore, then it’s their problem. not our problem.”
Kodak has dropped its $25,000 per year license fee for Digital ICE in favor of a one-off fee of 50,000 Euros. But Lempp explains that, “it was important for us to protect our existing customers. We sold quite a few and those customers are the lucky ones, because they will continue to have it without paying for it.”