The Man Who Beat Ford At Their Own Game



On a rainy day in 1962, Robert Kearns had one of those meandering thoughts that separate great inventors from mere mortals: What if a windshield wiper paused between each wipe, like a blinking eye? He constructed prototypes in his basement, filed a patent, and began to dream up a plan: He’d set up a pretty little factory in Detroit, become a major supplier of windshield wipers, and go down in history as one of the automobile industry’s great innovators. He took his idea to Ford Motor Company and they hired Kearns. However, just five months later — after securing the details of exactly how the device worked — they fired him. Kearns filed a patent infringement suit against Ford, seeking $350 million. Ford, who believed it’s cheaper to steal a patented product and face legal repercussions than it is to license it, figured Kearns would run out of money and they would win in the end. As the car giant soon found out, Kearns wasn’t going to give up. Slowly and methodically, he went about defending himself and kept plodding away in court. Finally, 12 years after the filing, the court ruled that Ford had benefited from Kearns' patent and awarded him $10.2 million. Today, he is regarded by many inventors as a personal hero for waging a war against the corporate world’s “steal now, pay later” culture.