• Sep 23, 2008
Click above to view Flash of Genius trailer

Considering that automakers today are racing to develop complex electric drive and alternative fuel technologies, it's amazing to realize that the biggest technological hurdle to overcome back in 1967 was getting wiper blades to operate intermittently. As it turns out, the history of how the intermittent wiper came to be is actually a dark tale in automotive history. Invented by college professor Robert Kearns in the late '60s, the technology was shopped around to every major automaker and Ford was the first to adopt it. Except the house that Henry built screwed Kearns out of not only the money he was due, but also the credit for developing what automakers themselves couldn't. That story has now been turned into a major motion picture called Flash of Genius that stars Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham (the mom from Gilmore Girls), Dermot Mulroney and Alan Alda. We wouldn't have thought a movie about windshield wipers would be very interesting, but the preview after the jump has us hooked. It's slated to open in theaters on October 17th courtesy of Universal.


[Source: Flashofgenius.net]



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  • 32 Comments
      • 6 Years Ago
      Tucker: The Man And His Dream.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Ford made full use of the intermittent wiper function soon after they got their hands on the invention - they even put it into base models of the Mk2 Escort!
      • 6 Years Ago
      i don't understand the timing.... i had a '64 Thunderbird for 30 years—my parents bought it brand new. It had variable rate windshield wipers. your pulled the right-hand side of a t-bar (the left was the washer), and you could have any of about 15 speeds, from once every 10 seconds or so, to about twice a second for downpours. i don't think i believe the entire premise of this movie!
        • 6 Years Ago
        Apologies Brad.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Casey,

        those weren't intermittent wipers on the 1964 Thunderbird; those were hydraulically operated. they had multiple speeds, but never had a timed delay. they were also used on the Lincoln Continental.

        according to my literature, the first year intermittent wipers were available on Ford products was in 1970; they were called interval wipers.

        AZMike
        • 6 Years Ago
        @Brad:

        Apparently, Kearns wanted to sue all three major automakers, as well as a few Japanese and German automakers, but only won the suits against Ford and Chrysler. His suit against GM was dismissed because he didn't file the papers fast enough, and his suits against all the foreigners also failed.

        http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/26/obituaries/26kearns.html

        http://www.theautochannel.com/news/2005/02/25/005398.html

        "Mr. Kearns sued the Ford Motor Company in 1978 and Chrysler in 1982, accusing them of patent infringement.

        "In 1990, a jury decided that Ford had infringed on Mr. Kearns's patent, though it concluded that the infringement had not been deliberate. Ford contended that the patent was invalid because the windshield system contained no new concepts.

        "But Mr. Kearns said a new combination of parts made his invention unique.

        "That jury failed to agree on how much he should be awarded, and another jury later ordered Ford to pay Mr. Kearns $6.3 million, which a judge cut to $5.2 million.

        "To settle the case, Ford later agreed to pay $10.2 million and to drop all appeals.

        "Chrysler was ordered to pay Mr. Kearns $18.7 million and interest. The Supreme Court of the United States rejected Chrysler's bid to overturn the award in 1995.

        "'I don't think the goal was the magnitude of the money,' Mr. Kearns said when the Ford case ended. He said his role 'was to defend the patent system.'

        "Later, his lawsuit against General Motors was dismissed, as were his lawsuits against foreign carmakers. Much of the money he was awarded went to legal expenses."
        • 6 Years Ago
        I just read the patent that Robert Kearns filed. The patent appears to not just be for intermittent wipers, but intermittent wipers that detect how wet the windshield is, and respond accordingly. And in response to the comments above, he only sued Ford and Chrysler; not GM.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Oh for the days of vacuum advance windshield wipers...
      • 6 Years Ago
      this looks like a great movie... underdogs ftw.

      i just wikipedia'd the dude, robert kearns tho... spoiler alert, but he ended up receiving thirty million dollars when he finally won the court cases in 1995. that seems like a really small amount of money to me, given the prevalence and import of intermittent windshield wipers...
      • 6 Years Ago
      Karma...

      Ditto on the Lauren Graham comment.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Please correct me if I am wrong but I believe Ford was working on multi speed wipers at the same time. That is one of the reasons he did not get more money in the settlement.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Everyone was, but they failed. His was the first out of the gate, patented, and which actually worked. What happened was he then shopped it around and rather than pay the guy the money to use them, they stole his blueprints and made it anyway.

        His patented system was used, meaning it doesnt matter if Ford "came up with it later" on their own, he already had patented it and they now owed him. The fact that they only came up with the idea AFTER he tried to sell it to them just puts the nail in the coffin of they stole it and figured he wasnt smart enough to go after them and would just give up.


        • 6 Years Ago
        Everyone was, but they failed. His was the first out of the gate, patented, and which actually worked. What happened was he then shopped it around and rather than pay the guy the money to use them, they stole his blueprints and made it anyway.

        His patented system was used, meaning it doesnt matter if Ford "came up with it later" on their own, he already had patented it and they now owed him. The fact that they only came up with the idea AFTER he tried to sell it to them just puts the nail in the coffin of they stole it and figured he wasnt smart enough to go after them and would just give up.


      • 6 Years Ago
      I just really can't believe the timing on this! You'd think Ford was running for President.

      You know what they should do? Commercials, like NOW commemorating the inventor, give him credit where credit is due (if he had a patent of course) and mute the point! It was 40 years ago for God's sake!
        • 6 Years Ago
        I believe the timing. When this movie was approved for production there wasn't an inkling of government loan guarantees for the auto industry. It has nothing to do with that. Watching the trailer I get the impression its really just a feel good story about an individual's triumph over a faceless corporation. It just happens to be Ford but it could just as easily have been General Electric.

        In any event the loan guarantees are going to be scuttled by the size of the banking/financial sector rescue. A movie that relatively few people will see won't have nearly as large an effect on public opinion (or the public purse...) as that will.
        • 6 Years Ago
        that comment is a bit contradictory. it was 40 years ago so why give him credit now? this movie will only inform those, who care to see it, who the real inventor was.

        -kudos to the prof from Detroit, i use my intermittent wipers all the time.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Ford also stole the collapsing steering column from Bela Barenyi an engineer at Mercedes. Neither collected any royalties on that one.
      • 6 Years Ago
      They stole from this man and now want a loan. Let them feel the sme pain and fight 'til the end like he did.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Saw the preview of this movie. Not interesting. an hour and forty minutes of wanting to bolt from your seat does not make the twenty minutes of actually interesting narrative worth it. Save your $8 and see it on DVD.
      • 6 Years Ago
      So they could launch space ships and put a man on the moon, yet they couldn't build a friggin wiper with a delay? Is this serious? How tough could it be???
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