fog_wp_10_800×600.jpgWe don’t usually plug movies around here but not too many movies have patent infringement as the major plot line.  Universal Pictures’ upcoming film titled Flash of Genius, starring Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham, Dermot Mulroney and Alan Alda, tells the story of the landmark patent case of inventor Robert Kearns.

Billed as educational while also inspiring and entertaining, the early reviews have been positive.  The story is based on the true story of college professor and part-time inventor Robert Kearns’s (Greg Kinnear) long battle with the U.S. automobile industry and his fight to receive recognition for his invention.  Kearns took on a battle that nobody thought he could win.

Kearns invented and patented the intermittent windshield wiper mechanism for use in light rain or mist and tried to license it to the big automakers. They all rejected his idea and then some went ahead and put intermittent wipers in their cars beginning in 1969. In 1967, he received the first of more than 30 patents for his wipers.   He sued Ford in 1978 and Chrysler in 1982 for patent infringement.

Ford argued that Kearns’ patents were overly broad and therefore invalid.  In 1990, a jury decided that Ford infringed on Kearns’ patent, though it concluded the infringement was not deliberate. Ford had contended the patent was invalid because the windshield system contained no new concepts. But Kearns argued a new combination of parts made his invention unique.

That jury failed to reach agreement on how much he should be awarded, and another jury later ordered Ford to pay Kearns $6.3 million, trimmed by a judge to $5.2 million. To settle the case, Ford agreed to pay $10.2 million and to drop all appeals.  Chrysler ended up paying Kearns $18.7 million plus interest.

It is noteworthy that Kearns did not want to just collect license fees (what some might call a patent troll today) but instead wanted to be a manufacturer of the devices and supply that system to the automotive industry.  When Chrysler appealed to the Supreme Court, it ruled that Kearns was entitled to the money but rejected his argument that Chrysler should be prohibited from using his design

Interestingly, intermittent wipers came about after Kearns was hit in his left eye by a champagne cork on his wedding night in 1953. Later, Kearns was driving his Ford Galaxie through a light rain, and the constant movement of the wiper blades irritated his already troubled vision. He modeled his mechanism on the human eye, which automatically blinks every few seconds.

Some of the patents at issue:

See the Flash of Genius trailer here. See more “flash of genius” here.

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17 Comments

  1. I was friends with Bob Kearns for many years. It is important to note that Ford has a long sleazy history of pirating independent inventor’s inventions. It all started with Henry and his fight with George Selden. Henry was about as scummy as they come, including being a huge supporter of the Nazis.

    Henry did a great job of passing his ethical standards on to his successors.

    Ford and the rest of the auto industry destroyed countless American inventors.

    What happens to stagnate companies who cannot produce significant inventions themselves who go out of their way to destroy those who can? Ford personifies that situation today. It is a shame that so many of their employees are now paying for Ford’s disreputable conduct.

    If only Ford and the other auto companies had had the smarts to embrace American ingenuity things could have been much different today. Now many American tech companies are on the same path which destroyed the auto industry. They even have their own trade association, the Coalition for Patent Fairness. That group is as bad or worse than the auto industry and their idea of “fairness” is that they should be allowed to commit intellectual larceny on the grandest of scales.

    Ronald J. Riley,

    Speaking only on my own behalf.
    Affiliations:
    President – http://www.PIAUSA.org – RJR at PIAUSA.org
    Executive Director – http://www.InventorEd.org – RJR at InvEd.org
    Senior Fellow – http://www.patentPolicy.org
    President – Alliance for American Innovation
    Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
    Washington, DC
    Direct (202) 318-1595 – 9 am to 9 pm EST.

  2. […] Synopsis from Patent Baristas. […]

  3. HOLLYWOOD AT ITS BEST PUTTING THEIR SPIN ON THE WIPER ISSUE. CASE IN POINT: KEARNS DIDN’T SUE TOYOTA, HONDA OR THE OTHER FOREIGN CARMAKERS WHO WERE USING THE SAME WIPER UNTIL AFTER HE SUCKERED $10 MILLION FROM FORD AND $18 MILLION FROM cHRYSLER. WHY DIDN’T ANY OF THOSE POINTS COME UP IN THE MOVIE. ALL WE SEE IS FORD AS THE BAD GUY 20 YEARS AGO. WHAT A TYPICAL SPIN FROM HOLLYWOOD. SCREW THE AMERICAN COMPANIES AND NOT MENTION THE FOREIGN CARMAKERS.BY THE WAY, HE LOST TO THE FOREIGN CARMAKERS AFTER THE SUPREME COURT REJECTED HIS APPEAL SINCE THEY FIGURED THE GUY GOT ENOUGH FROM THE AMERICAN CARMAKERS AND HE WAS SIMPLY A BLACKMAILER! READ KEARNS VS TOYOTA 94-2056..AND LEARN THE REAL STORY!

  4. I for one do not need to read propaganda from any of the companies who systematically stole Bob Kearns’ intellectual property. We all know that sleazy patent pirates are good at twisting the facts of cases and trying to paint those they victimized as deserving their fate.

    Look at the Coalition for Patent Fairness and their ten million dollar troll media campaign.

    Bob Kearns was right and Ford laughed all the way to the bank about how cheap they got off. It is my understanding that the Ford infringement was worth about $750 million.

    Ford was founded by a rotten seed, their conduct was bad long before they victimized the Kearns family twenty years ago and they still are bad apples today.

    Ford is reaping what they have sowed since their inception today. They rejected invention and are close to failure as a result of not evolving.

    I feel bad for all of Ford’s employees but not for the company.

    Many historians think that the Nazis would never have achieved mainstream status if not for the large amount of money Henry Ford pumped into the movement.

    He also played a big role in producing anti-Jew propaganda.

    Henry Ford’s conduct was atrocious and nothing else he did could possibly mitigate his misdeeds.

    Ford as a company misdeeds against Bob Kearns and his family were outrageous and while we have a good understanding of what Ford did to Bob Kearns there were countless other inventor victims who expired with a whimper under Ford’s corporate foot.

    Ronald J. Riley,

    Speaking only on my own behalf.
    Affiliations:
    President – http://www.PIAUSA.org – RJR at PIAUSA.org
    Executive Director – http://www.InventorEd.org – RJR at InvEd.org
    Senior Fellow – http://www.patentPolicy.org
    President – Alliance for American Innovation
    Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
    Washington, DC
    Direct (202) 318-1595 – 9 am to 9 pm EST.

  5. Hey, all you big automakers out there!
    I am an inventor who is trying to develop cars which run on steam and hydroelectric and solar and wind power. If you want, you can steal all of my ideas just as long as you save all of us people a ton of money at the gas pump by doing so!

  6. i don’t think any reasonable person would consider an inventor to be a patent troll. trolls buy patent properties and attempt to collect licensing fees as a business model. not every inventor who seeks to monetize his property is a “troll” b/c he might lack the desire or resources to practice the invention.

  7. Hi patentistas, I wrote the New Yorker article on which the movie is based. (It just came out in my book “Flash of Genius..”) I don’t think the movie glorifies Bob Kearns. It gives him his due for devoting his life to his patents, but it also makes clear what he lost in doing that. The issue in the movie is not whether or not Kearns deserved a patent, but whether or not Kearns’s life’s cause was worth the energy he put into it. The viewer has to decide. It could go either way. But that’s why I liked the movie.

  8. […] a patent dispute with Ford. According to the Patent Baristas, the main issue of contention was the uniqueness of the intermittent wiper: Ford argued that Kearns’ patents were overly broad and therefore invalid…  Ford had […]

  9. I am a first time inventor and have held both design and utility patents on a product since 2005. I originally tried to get my product licensed with one of the major players in the industry and received no response. I had spent much of my savings and did not have the capital for manufacturing on a large scale so I began selling my product door to door and have since been encouraged (by sales) to seek an investor.
    Just this past Sunday I stumbled on my product being sold by a major corp. with the claim it was the design of an advisory board member! He even had the nerve to name the product after himself.
    This movie couldn’t have come at a better time for me and many others I am sure. The public awareness that will be created due to this movie (Flash of Genius) and the motivation to pursue ones rights is priceless.

  10. “Is Timing Everything?”

    It is not everything but it is important.

    Once a person starts thinking like an inventor, looking for problems which need solutions they usually produce a wellspring of inventions. So the problem becomes one of picking the invention which looks like it has the best prospects and then work just that invention until you either succeed or it becomes clear that it is not going to make the grade.

    Before doing any of this the inventor needs to take time to learn about the business. Inventors need to know about the invention promotion frauds who will fleece the inventor for typically ten to fifty thousand dollars. See http://www.InventorEd.org/caution/ and take heed. We are the leaders in researching invention promotion fraud and making that information available to the public, media, and law enforcement.

    No good deed goes unpunished and this work leads to many libel-defamation and other threats of litigation. Our policy is to publish such threats and to expose those who make them by publishing their communications and our pithy responses.

    InventorEd is a 501(c)3 nonprofit. We have the biggest website and the people behind our organizations are commercially successful inventors. Local inventor groups are good for inventors in the earliest stages but may not have the scope of expertise an inventor needs as they advance themselves and that is where we come into play.

    New inventors should start with http://www.InventorEd.org/novice and join our inventor’s discussion group.

    Once inventors move into marketing they should join the Professional Inventors Alliance http://www.PIAUSA.org. As you saw in the movie Flash of Genius Bob Kearns was led along to by Ford so that they could steal his invention. This happens frequently.

    Bob Kearns did not have the benefit of a peer group which truly understood his situation. Bob did not have the benefit of any contemporaries who shared his experience. But today inventors do in the form of the Professional Inventors Alliance.

    Ronald J. Riley,

    Speaking only on my own behalf.
    Affiliations:
    President – http://www.PIAUSA.org – RJR at PIAUSA.org
    Executive Director – http://www.InventorEd.org – RJR at InvEd.org
    Senior Fellow – http://www.patentPolicy.org
    President – Alliance for American Innovation
    Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
    Washington, DC
    Direct (202) 318-1595 – 9 am to 9 pm EST.

  11. Mike,

    “i don’t think any reasonable person would consider an inventor to be a patent troll. trolls buy patent properties and attempt to collect licensing fees as a business model. not every inventor who seeks to monetize his property is a “troll” b/c he might lack the desire or resources to practice the invention.”

    The only reason we have patent enforcement companies (which patent pirates like to call trolls) is that those companies refuse to take a license from the inventor, preferring to steal instead. In the process they incur large liabilities, betting that most inventors will not be able to afford to hold them accountable. This is where patent enforcement companies come into play. They supply the capital to force the patent pirate to to pay for what they have taken. Patent pirates don’t much like being held accountable so they characterize the inventors as trolls.

    These companies have always had the ability to eliminate their problems with patent litigation, all they need to do is start operating reputably. They are not going to do so as long as they profit from disreputable conduct.

    Ronald J. Riley,

    Speaking only on my own behalf.
    Affiliations:
    President – http://www.PIAUSA.org – RJR at PIAUSA.org
    Executive Director – http://www.InventorEd.org – RJR at InvEd.org
    Senior Fellow – http://www.patentPolicy.org
    President – Alliance for American Innovation
    Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
    Washington, DC
    Direct (202) 318-1595 – 9 am to 9 pm EST.

    Senior Fellow – http://www.patentPolicy.org
    President – Alliance for American Innovation
    Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
    Washington, DC
    Direct (202) 318-1595 – 9 am to 9 pm EST.

  12. It is my understanding that Ford argued that Kearns’ patents were overly broad and therefore invalid. It is also my understanding that Ford had developed a testing model for the intermittent wiper using the sum total of 29 parts whereas Bob Kearns came up with 4 all of which had only one part which moved. The fact that he combined just 4 parts, common and available to everyone; did this in his basement as opposed to Ford Engineers slaving in their fancy labs; and actually solved this complicated problem is a patent in and of itself. Aren’t all inventions the sum of parts or the invention of the part itself regardless of the combination? Isn’t an invention the marriage of multiple parts or chemicals or whatever to construct something new and useful? To those unfamiliar with Patents and the laws associated with them, this simply seems common sense which is most likely why a jury sided the way they did…….The common people simply “get it”.

  13. It is my understanding that Ford argued that Kearns’ patents were overly broad and therefore invalid. It is also my understanding that Ford had developed a testing model for the intermittent wiper using the sum total of 29 parts whereas Bob Kearns came up with 4 parts all of which had only one part which moved. The fact that he combined just 4 parts, common and available to everyone; did this in his basement as opposed to Ford Engineers slaving in their fancy labs; and actually solved this complicated problem is a patent in and of itself. Aren’t all inventions the sum of parts or the invention of the part itself regardless of the combination? Isn’t an invention the marriage of multiple parts or chemicals or whatever to construct something new and useful? To those unfamiliar with Patents and the laws associated with them, this simply seems common sense which is most likely why a jury sided the way they did…….The common people simply “get it”.

  14. […] Review links a patent attorney’s preview of Flash of Genius, a movie about the guy who invented the intermittent windshield-wiper. Stephen […]

  15. […] Review links a patent attorney’s preview of Flash of Genius, a movie about the guy who invented the intermittent windshield-wiper. Stephen […]

  16. […] Review links a patent attorney’s preview of Flash of Genius, a movie about the guy who invented the intermittent windshield-wiper. Stephen […]

  17. […] A must watch movie for all “Patent – Guys &Gals“. An interesting related post on Patent Baristas […]