Robert Kearns, inventor of intermittent wipers, dies
Kearns, a onetime Wayne State University professor, received numerous patents in 1967 for his design for wipers that paused between swipes, making them useful in very light rain or mist. The invention allows the driver to set the interval at which the wiper sweeps the window.
He shopped his invention around to various automakers but did not reach a licensing deal with any of them. But carmakers eventually began offering intermittent wipers as standard or optional equipment.
In 1990, a jury decided that Ford infringed on Kearns' patent, though it concluded the infringement was not willful. 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 US$6.3 million, trimmed by a judge to $5.2 million. To settle the case, the car giant later agreed to pay $10.2 million and to drop all appeals.
Chrysler ended up being ordered to pay Kearns $18.7 million plus interest. The Supreme Court rejected Chrysler's bid to overturn the award in 1995.
"I don't think the goal was the magnitude of the money," Kearns said when the Ford case was ended. "What I saw [as] my role was to defend the patent system. If I don't go further, there really isn't a patent system."