worm.gif (3649 bytes)Ford Motor Company Cheats Inventor
"Quality is Job One"

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How a routine automotive feature pitted an inventor against the entire industry.

Ford tried to cheat an inventor.  Buy a Chevy.  Better yet,
Go Japanese!

 

 

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Robert Kearns

 This is what happened - 

In the early 1960s an college professor and inventor named Robert Kearns showed his gizmo to the Ford Motor company.  The thing he had built was a timer to make car windshield wipers operate intermittently.  Nowadays this feature is on every car, but in those days this was something new.  Ford took this idea and ran with it -- the company started to add this feature to cars without paying Mr. Kearns.  It wasn't until the mid 1970s that Kearns discovered that the workings of his invention were substantial the same as Ford's implementation of it.  He sued.  He suffered a prolonged legal action that wasn't resolved, in his favor, until 1990s.  He eventually was awarded some 30,000,000 dollars.  His legal struggles were immense but he persevered.


This reminds me what happened to me in the early 1980s.  In those days a simple pocket calculator cost a small fortune.  A scientific calculator that would substitute for a slide rule was even more expensive.   Many students had their pocket computer stolen.  That also happened to me.  I thought that if these expensive gizmos were made to be password protected, (like nowadays' PIN number) , that would thwart would-be thieves.  (But more might be sold if more were stolen:)

So I wrote to the Hewlett Packard company (hp), one of the main manufacturers of scientific calculators, to give its management my idea to stem the tide of such theft, free of charge.   The company's reply, no word of thanks, came to me in the form of a letter threatening to take me to court.  That, in case it decided to add such a feature to future machines, presumably.  For more than the tears after that Hewlett Packard periodically put me on it's mailing list which advertised electronic test equipment.  It's an early example of what we no call spam.


 

 Links: 
Sears  tried to cheat an inventor  How a routine automotive feature pitted an individual inventor against the entire industry.
Patent number: 3483459 Filing date: Mar 7, 1966Issue date: Mar 1966   Image
Roulette patent  Blackjack

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Based on the true story of college professor and part-time inventor Robert Kearnsí (Greg Kinnear) long battle with the U.S. automobile industry, Flash of Genius tells the tale of one man whose fight to receive recognition for his ingenuity at any price. This determined engineer refused to be silenced, and he took on the corporate titans in a battle that nobody thought he could win. When Bob invents a device that would eventually be used by every car in the world, the Kearns think they have struck gold. But their aspirations are dashed after the auto giants who embraced Bobís creation unceremoniously shunned the man who invented it. While refusing to compromise his dignity, this everyday David will try the unthinkable: to bring Goliath to his knees.

 

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