Throughout our history, talented people have come along and changed the world. This is that kind of story. Professor Robert Kearns (March 10, 1927-February 9, 2005) did something that no one else had ever done. And it was important enough that I want as many people as possible to know about him and what he did to help the world. He invented the intermittent windshield wiper system.
Kearns invented and patented the intermittent wiper mechanism which was useful in light rain or mist. And he won possibly one of the most famous patent infringement cases in U.S. history against Ford Motor Company (Kearns vs Ford Motor Company 1978).
It was reported that Kearns came up with the invention after a champagne cork shot into his left eye, which almost made it blind. Kearns said in 1963, the constant motion of the windshield wiper aggravated his already troubled eye. He modeled his invention on the blinking of a human eye.
Kearns pitched his invention to Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors. Only Ford showed an interest in it. The US car companies, obviously unsuccessful for years, had tried to invent the intermittent wiper.
Apparently, his business manager and friend, gave Ford engineers the prototype to look at. Later on, Ford told Kearns business manager they were no longer interested. Then in 1969, the new Ford automobiles had the intermittent wiper assembly on their cars.
When Kearns confronted Ford about stealing his invention, they denied it. Kearns hired a lawyer, which tried to get him to settle for a small amount, but Kearns declined.
Kearns sued Ford Motor Company in 1978 and the trial went forward in 1990. Apparently, when it was obvious that Kearns was prepared to go as far as he had to, Ford offered him a large settlement, but Kearns wanted Ford to admit who really developed the wiper. Ford refused. So Kearns pressed on with the case. Ford and Kearns finally did settle, with Ford agreeing to give Kearns credit for inventing the wiper.
Ford argued during the trial that Kearns patent was invalid, and that he had not invented the parts the wiper consisted of, that they already existed. Kearns countered that just because the parts existed, he was the one who put them together to make the invention work. The court agreed with Kearns.
The Chrysler verdict was decided in 1992 and was a victory for Kearns. Chrysler was ordered to pay 18.7 million with interest. Chrysler appealed the decision, but the Federal Circuit Court denied the appeal. The Supreme Court also declined to hear the case. On or after 1995, Kearns received approximately 30 million dollars from Chrysler.
What is interesting is that the firm of Harness, Dickey and Pierce, one of the first firms Kearns went to about suing Ford in the 1970's, represented Chrysler.
When Kearns represented himself against GM and Mercedes, he did not fare well, as the defendants lawyers made it very difficult for Kearns to prove his case and it was dismissed both times.
Dr. Kearns was awarded three patents for his invention. In 1967, 1971 and 1985. Dr Kearns died on February 9Th 2005. His story was finally told in the movie "Flash of Genius" starring Greg Kinnear. I personally thought the movie was excellent, and I honestly jumped up and cheered at the end, as silly as that sounds.
There are many blog reviews of the movie "Flash of Genius" and Dr. Robert Kearns. I have found several comments on some blogs by Dr. Robert Kearns son, Dennis, with lots of info on his dad, the trial, and the movie. Very interesting stuff.
Interesting enough, there were four other men who battled big companies over patent infringements. Edwin Armstrong, battled over the invention of the frequency module in radio broadcasting. Walter Avrea evidently won multi-million dollar lawsuits against Ford and GM for their unauthorized use of a coolant recovery system he invented in 1970, which was needed to prevent overheating of Pinto and Vega aluminum block engines.
Also Philo Farnsworth, the "father of television", invented the first all electronic television, and battled RCA. And Gordon Gould had a thirty year fight with the United States Patent and Trademark Office over laser and laser technologies and took on laser manufacturers in court to enforce the patents he subsequently did obtain.
Most should agree that these men contributed greatly to the advances of technology and improvement in all our lives. And were willing to fight for recognition, and what was right even against impossible odds. My hat is certainly off to these men.
Thank you for visiting my little blog, and I hope you will tell your friends about it. All the best to you.