Can ink jet save Kodak?

Kodak, which has been struggling to build its digital imaging business as its film-based consumer photography business waned, is selling off part of its lucrative patent portfolio in a bid to buy more time and improve its deteriorating cash reserves, according to a Wall Street Journal story today. That business includes a line of digital cameras and ink jet printers.

Kodak had high hopes when it launched its EasyShare multifunction ink jet printer line back in 2007. It's claim that other printer vendors were "ripping off" the public by selling them cheap printers and expensive ink hit a nerve with consumers, who sometimes found that the first set of replacement cartridges cost more than the printer did.

But Kodak had a hard time early on getting shelf space in a market dominated by HP, Epson, Lexmark and Canon, and users complained about quality problems in online forums.

A head-to-head test between HP's Photosmart and Kodak's Easyshare all-in-on ink jet printers gave Kodak a decisive cost edge back in 2007, but HP didn't stand still.

While publicly defending the high cost of HP-branded ink used in its consumer lines, the company was also offering less costly (on a per page basis) cartridges for its OfficeJet series, a business class all-in-one that sold for more than its consumer-oriented Photosmart machines, but used ink cartridges with a cost per page on par with its less expensive laser lines.

While Kodak still maintains a cost advantage when compared to the HP Photosmart, recent Consumer Reports tests showed HP's OfficeJet Pro 8500A to be the least expensive printer to run in its class, and about 16% cheaper than comparable Kodak models. (Lexmark's X2670 was the most expensive, with consumable costs more than five times that of the HP 8500A.)

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