Judge approves Kodak plan to exit bankruptcy

NEW YORK – A federal judge has approved Kodak’s plan to emerge from bankruptcy protection.

Judge Allan Gropper’s ruling paves the way for the photography pioneer to emerge from court oversight as a new company focused on commercial and packaging printing. The company has said it hopes to emerge from bankruptcy protection on Sept. 3.

In making his ruling, Gropper noted that his approval of the plan will result in the loss of retirement and healthcare benefits for many former workers, while many of the company’s investors will recoup just pennies on the dollar.

“So at a time of admitted tragedy, let us take a moment to dwell on the future and hope that Kodak will be successful,” Gropper said.

Founded by George Eastman in 1880, Eastman Kodak Co. is credited with popularizing photography at the start of the 20th century and was known all over the world for its Brownie and Instamatic cameras and its yellow-and-red film boxes. It was first brought down by Japanese competition and then an inability to keep pace with the shift from film to digital technology.

The company filed for bankruptcy protection last year after struggling with increasing competition, continuing growth in digital photography and growing debt. Since its filing, Kodak has sold off many of its businesses and patents, while shutting down the camera manufacturing unit that first made it famous.

“Kodak is a different company than the one in the popular imagination and very different from the one that filed for bankruptcy,” Kodak attorney Andrew Dietderich told the court at the start of Tuesday’s hearing.

Earlier this year, the company said it would sell its personalized and document-imaging businesses to its U.K. pension plan for $650 million as part of a deal that settles $2.8 billion in claims that the retirement fund had sought from the photography pioneer.

It also sold its document imaging assets, digital imaging patents and online photo service, while shutting down other divisions.

Last week, a majority of the company’s creditors voted to approve its plan to emerge. But some retirees, shareholders and other parties objected to it.