U.S. International Trade Commission to investigate iPhone, BlackBerry camera software

Federal officials announced Wednesday they would investigate whether the makers of the iPhone and BlackBerry violated one of Kodak's long-standing digital patents.

The camera company filed a complaint in January with the U.S. International Trade Commission, alleging the software that allows users to preview photos they have taken infringes on their patet. But the agency only voted on Wednesday to open an official inquiry.

Trade Commission officials stressed in a release announcing the decision Wednesday afternoon that they had not yet made "any decision on the merits of the case." However, they did note they had 45 days to set a deadline for when they might offer their ruling.

Nevertheless, Kodak has long been at odds with Apple and Research in Motion -- the companies behind the iPhone and BlackBerry, respectively -- for their camera software within their smartphones.

Kodak began threatening legal action against both manufacturers in January, after multiple attempts to resolve the issue out of court failed. Still pending are two lawsuits in federal court, as well as the inquiry before the trade commission.

In the latter forum, Kodak officials have even asked the federal government to block imports of both devices until the software in question has been changed, or both companies somehow reimburse the camera company.

"In the case of Apple and RIM, we've had discussions for years with both companies in an attempt to resolve this issue amicably, and we have not been able to reach a satisfactory agreement,"  Laura Quatela, Kodak's chief intellectual property officer, told reporters last month. "In light of that, we are taking this action to ensure that we protect the interests of our shareholders and the existing licensees of our technology."