Friday, April 01, 2011

Omnivision Acquires 850 Kodak Patents for $65M

PR Newswire: OmniVision announced the purchase of approximately 850 image sensor-related patents and patent applications from Eastman Kodak for $65.0 million in a cash transaction. The transaction was completed on March 31, 2011.

"We are pleased with the opportunity to double the size of our intellectual property portfolio for CMOS image sensors," said Shaw Hong, CEO of OmniVision.

The purchased patent portfolio comprises approximately 850 U.S. and foreign patents and patent applications. The intellectual property includes numerous granted patents of key CMOS technologies covering early and fundamental CMOS image sensor work; improvements on foundational architectures, including new features and functions; and next generation performance improvements, miniaturization and cost reduction technologies.


  1. Like shopping at WalMart.

    ~$75,000/patent... barely covers the legal costs of the patent prosecution.

    It's probably a fantastic deal for OVI struck at a fire sale.

  2. It's interesting that we have not (yet) seen heavy patent enforcement in the image sensor space. Photobit (now part of Aptina) did get some $ out of OVT way back on Bayer pattern sensors, but most of the heavy litigation has been on the camera phone side going after the cellphone guys (i.e. Kodak themselves going after Mot and others).

    I can think of several areas that would prove interesting (the various EDOF technologies duking it out, BSI, even packaging and camera module design).

    I'll also note that while Tessera laid off a ton of imaging people in January, they hired a brand new "Vice President, Litigation".

  3. There are many interesting and creative patent applications in that portfolio. I think it will be a challenge to recoup that investment in net revenue from sales but Omnivision has an uncanny ability to surprise me.

    I think just about every major image sensor manufacturer punted on the opportunity buy the Kodak portfolio, except of course Omnivision. Makes you wonder!

  4. does it mean that omnivision feels it could not produce more from pumping $65 million into its own R&D efforts because that's been its experience w/ R&D in the past? yes i do wonder.

    i agree w/ eric. i'd be hard pressed to see omnivision making enough more than $65 million in net profit to justify the investment to its shareholders.

  5. .... It's interesting that we have not (yet) seen heavy patent enforcement in the image sensor space.
    I think you are not well informed.

  6. I think most big image sensor companies should be grateful to Omnivision for taking the Kodak wild card off the table. Now the big players can cross-license each other and move on, without the fear of some heavyweight patent troll like Kodak causing an expensive problem.

    Certainly I would not expect Omnivision to sue its customers, and it would be silly for them to sue a contemporary heavyweight without fear of countersuit. And, it would be too distracting to sue a lightweight that did not threaten their market position.

    Of course there are still a few non-manufacturers with important IP positions, like Microsoft and some European research institutes so that will still need to play out.

    Still, being somewhat familiar with the Kodak portfolio, I sure would like to understand why Omnivision "took one for the team". PMOS pixels? Panchromatic pixels? Sensor-on-top/VI? BSI? (e.g. a defense against Ziptronix?)

    Well, anyway, I see this as good for the industry in general.

    I also think it is very very sad for Kodak but I guess the MBA bean counters there feel like they have plundered the image sensor technology IP and can move on to selling the Kodak brand name.

  7. OV has the PMOS patents and works with TSMC that has the PMOS process all worked out = they can probably go into production with a BSI PMOS relativelly quickly. That is LOW.. LOW dark current.

    Or maybe not!

    Aside for the straight image sensor patents there are probably image processing patents in this pile. For sure the ones associated with the panchromatic CFAs.

  8. I wonder how many people from the former Kodak's CIS team are now with OV ?

  9. It looks to me like a defensive move for OVT. They may assert against smaller startups but my guess is they bought them to keep others at bay in the event of any litigation.

  10. OV took one for the team? Really? What is this :Candyland? Wake up guys! Don't be naive: they know exactly what they are doing!

  11. This seems like a useful defense against some competitors in China. Since OV controls many fundamental patents, it will be harder for newcomers like Seti, GalaxyCore, etc to expand internationally.

  12. "It's interesting that we have not (yet) seen heavy patent enforcement in the image sensor space."

    Isn't there still an open lawsuit against Omnivision

  13. I read one news article today announcing that Texas Instruments is buying National Semiconductor for USD 6.5 billion and another speculating that Google is offering USD 900 million for around 6000 patents from what's left of Nortel Networks.

    It seems to me that there is some fairly major consolidation going on in the technology industry. Among image sensor majors, Sony and Samsung are already part of large conglomerates, so they are probably not takeover targets. However, Aptina and OmniVision are not. While we sometimes tend to think of them as big companies, by the standards of the wider technology community they aren't really all that big.

    I think the purchase of the Kodak portfolio puts OmniVision in an excellent position on the takeover market. Even if the company can't recover the investment through near-term operations, the aggregated IP would probably make it a much more expensive acquisition target for, say, a bigger technology company, or maybe a sovereign wealth fund.


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