A federal appeals court today overturned nearly all of an $87 million antitrust judgment against Eastman Kodak Co., the world's largest producer of photographic equipment.
In what Chief Judge Irving R. Kaufman of the U.S. Court of Appeals termed "one of the largest and most significant private antitrust suits in history," the three-judge appeals court said antitrust laws should not be "invoked perversely in favor of those who seek protection against the rigors of competition."
The antitrust action was brought against Eastman Kodak by Berkey Photo Inc. The action charged that Kodak dominated every aspect of amateur photography from cameras to film making and film processing.
The core of the case rested on Berkey's claim that by introducing the Instamatic 110 camera and the new film to go with it in 1972 without informing its smaller competitors, Eastman Kodak was illegally using its monopoly powers.
The 110 camera, the so-called Pocket Instamatic, was the core of a complex anti-trust case that included 10 specific judgments, eight of them against Kodak and two for the $7 billion photographic company.
The court reversed a $45.75 million award to Berkey on the Instamatic case. It also ordered new trials on three other counts awarding Berkey $34.7 million for the lost photofinishing business, excessive prices paid for photofinishing equipment and excessive prices paid for film that Berkey resold to customers.
The court, however, did uphold the lower court ruling that Kodak had conspired with Sylvania Electric Products, Inc., to keep secret from other camera makers Sylvania's Magicube flashbulb. The lower court had awarded Berkey nearly $ $1 million in damages to its camera sales resulting from the "Magicube conspiracy."
Berkey had sales of nearly $200 million last year. The company used to compete with Kodak in cameras, but dropped out of camera sales in 1978. It does compete with Kodak in developing and printing prints, slides and movies.
While it does not manufacture film - Kodak manufactures nearly all the film used in the amateur photgraphic market in the United States - Berkey buys film from Kodak that it resells to customers and also buys processing equipment and color print paper from Eastman Kodak.
Berkey contended that because Kodak makes nearly all the photographic film in the United States, it misused its dominance in the film market to give itself an advantage in the camera market.
When it announced the new Pocket Instamatic, it also announced the new film, Kodacolor II, to go with it. Kodak manufactured the new film in a size that was compatible only with the new camera.
Berkey alleged that since Kodak did not manufacture the new film in sizes compatible with the older, 126 cameras that Kodak and other camera makers like Berkey made, those cameras makers were at a disadvantage until they could rush out cameras that could use the Kodacolor II cartridge.
The three-judge court said that while there is little doubt that Kodak has monopoly powers in cameras and film, "even a monopolist, to design a new camera format, has a right to the lead time that follows from its success.
"The mere fact that Kodak manufactured film in the new format as well, so that its customers would not be offered worthless cameras, could not deprive it of that reward."
Bereky stock closed off 1 5/8 at 5 per share, while Kodak closed out 5/8, at 59 1/8.
Berkey said it was studying the decision as well as whether to appeal to the Supreme Court to have the award reinstated without further trial.
Observers said the opinion makes clear that a lawful monopoly such as Eastman Kodak must be allowed to pursue normal competitive activities such as introducing new products, or else the antitrust laws would encourage the very type of lazy economic behavior they seek to avert.
But when a company uses its power to gain, exclusive rights ideas developed by others - such as the Magicube - it abuses its position.