Is Bankruptcy the End For Kodak?

from Photography Blog

Today is a very sad day in Rochester, NY. Kodak announced its plans to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Outsiders may not understand why this is such a sad day for Rochester. After all, so many companies have declared bankruptcy, restructured and gone on to live and prosper another day. But to Rochestarians, Kodak was the last bastion of the companies where you had a job for life if you wanted it. Kodak promoted the idea that “the company will always take care of you.” Your job may be boring as hell, you may do the same job for 30 years, but you had health insurance and a paycheck and retirement you could rely on. The company has shepherded generations of families through previous recessions and prospered for a long time. I know that from first-hand experience. My dad and uncle were engineers there, and my brother and I worked there as well.

So what happened? Some have blamed Rochester as an area which has failed to keep pace with technological innovations and has not fostered a business atmosphere conducive to growth. Not true. RocCity has not been a one-company city for a very long time. We are one of the top 10 cities in the country not just on the verge of recovering from the recession, but poised for explosive growth in the next few years. We have plenty of new and not-so-new small and medium-sized technology businesses.

Here’s the thing: If you fail to protect your intellectual property rights or to continue to innovate in today’s climate, your business is going to take a huge hit, maybe even go under. Kodak was a giant. They were the foremost makers of film for commercial and home use. Hollywood built its film industry using Kodak film. Kodak was king for such a long time, they failed to notice all those other businesses infringing on their patents. People sneer at Apple when they seem like they are suing another company a minute. But if you do not protect your intellectual property rights, there are other companies who will infringe on them and make a profit. Kodak is now suing companies like crazy, but it’s kind of like a gazelle flailing out at wolves as they take it down.

Even as late as the 1980s, Kodak was still resting on its laurels. Sure, they made a half-hearted attempt to hold onto the camera market by manufacturing the Disc camera. Problem was that the company took shortcuts, and the camera was crap. As a student intern at Kodak, I saw the Disc camera electronic boards coming off the assembly line with the circuitry already broken, and fixing them by hand hardly solved the problem.

Bankruptcy may allow Kodak to pull through as a smaller, more healthy company, but it is going to have to push to become a frontrunner in digital imaging technology and continue to innovate, to provide for business and consumer needs. There can be no more resting on its reputation because that reputation is now in tatters. The company needs to build a new, stronger reputation. Can Kodak do this? Yes, there’s always the possibility that the company will pull through. If it does, the rest of the country and the world will get a new, first-hand look at what American ingenuity can do.

Bring it on, Kodak. You’re not finished yet.

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