By Jacqueline Palank
Eastman Kodak Co. (EKDKQ) next week will put more than 1,000 of its lucrative imaging patents on the auction block, a sale the company's creditors are counting on for payment.
The company is seeking to keep the auction process confidential, but The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple Inc. (AAPL), Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), Google Inc. (GOOG) and Samsung Electronics Co. (SSNHY) are among the giant technology companies that are vying for the patents.
Worth as much as $2.6 billion, the patents cover the technology used in digital cameras, smartphones and tablet computers to capture, transmit, manipulate and store images. According to Kodak, it's been able to earn more than $3 billion over the past decade by licensing the patents.
The patent auction is slated for Wednesday, but Kodak will head to the Manhattan bankruptcy court Monday to seek approval of a bonus plan for executives and managers.
Kodak says it would pay $4.5 million in incentives to the employees as long as they hit certain operational and restructuring benchmarks, which the company called "meaningful stretch goals."
Bankruptcy watchdog Tracy Hope Davis, a U.S. trustee, disputed that characterization, saying the bonuses appear to be illegal retention bonuses. She called on Kodak to disclose the specific financial benchmarks that would trigger bonuses.
The Bankruptcy Code generally bars retention payments for executives and other insiders but allows bonuses for these high-ranking officials as long as they're tied to benchmarks that require some stretching to achieve.
A group of Kodak retirees also urged the company to hold off on the bonuses until after the patent auction, which will influence the success of its restructuring.
"At this time consideration of the [bonus] motion would be disruptive and divisive," the retirees said, not to mention "ill-timed and premature."
A Manhattan bankruptcy judge on Wednesday will consider Residential Capital LLC's request to pay up to $17.8 million in morale-boosting bonuses to nearly 200 employees.
The bonuses are needed to ensure employees "remain motivated in these difficult and taxing times," said ResCap, whose parent Ally Financial Inc. received more than $17 billion in assistance under the Troubled Asset Relief Program during the financial crisis and still owes the government about $12 billion.
ResCap's proposal envisions two bonus plans: incentives for 17 top executives to reward them for selling ResCap's assets and retention payments to convince 174 non-executive employees to stick with the company.
According to Ms. Davis, the U.S. trustee, ResCap's executive bonus plan is actually "a disguised retention plan" that sets a "low performance bar."
The trustee called on the court to block the executive bonuses, which ResCap said will encourage its leaders to go above and beyond their daily duties.
ResCap's chief executive and several other officers aren't eligible for bonuses because of TARP restrictions.
Also next week, Tribune Co. (TRBCQ) will ask a Wilmington, Del., judge to help it ink a deal to secure bankruptcy-exit financing.
The publisher of the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, among other papers, said it's close to a deal with Bank of America Corp. (BAC) to provide one-third of a $300 million loan to fund Tribune's exit from bankruptcy protection after more than three years.
Tribune wants permission to cover the lender's expenses, which the court will consider at a Tuesday hearing.
-Peg Brickley and Patrick Fitzgerald contributed to this article
Write to Jacqueline Palank at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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