Tag Archives: Robert Kearns

IP CloseUp visits were up 81% in 2016, breaking previous record

It was the second record-breaking year in a row for IP CloseUp readership, with 43,946 visits in 2016, an 81% increase from 24,273 in 2015. The previous record increase was 31% in 2015, up from 2014.

The most popular51yeitvgpal post was “Kearns’ son still fuming over wiper blade suit,” with 21,652 views. Other popular posts included “For Samsung charity begins at home, Marshall, TX,” coming in with 5,464.

The Kearns article, detailing his 12-year patent suit with Ford and other auto companies, has generated 31,081 hits since it was originally posted in 2011.

Renewed interest in the Kearns biopic detailing the inventor’s patent suit, “Flash of Genius,” starring Greg Kinnear and Alan Alda, likely stimulated interest in the topic, as well as new obstacles to patent licensing.

 

Image source: amazon.com; hippajournal.com

 

Inventor Kearns’ fight with Ford & other auto cos is 2016’s most read IP CloseUp post; 20,000+ visitors

An article summarizing inventor Robert Kearns’ epic battle against the automobile industry is this year’s most read IP CloseUp post with more than 21,000 visits.

The post summarizes the twelve-year patent suit mounted by Kearns, the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper, against Ford and much of the automobile industry in the 1980s and 1990s, for stealing his invention.

“Kearns’ Son Still Fuming Over Wiper Blade Fight” generated 21,374 visits thus far in 2016, up from 6,928 in 2015. Total visits are over 30,000, which makes it the most read of almost 300 IPCU posts.

What about this story resonates with readers?

It could have something to do with the 2008 movie, Flash of Genius, that memorialized Kearns’ battle and depicted how it contributed to his mental breakdown and loss of his family.

Bittersweet Victory

Flash of Genius, starring Greg Kinnear as Robert Kearns and Alan Alda, as Gregory Lawson, his ambiguous attorney, opened to mixed but generally positive reviews (59% Tomato Meter; 55% Audience Score). It had a $20 million budget but grossed just $4.8 million at the box office. (Alda, of M*A*S*H fame, BTW, is a champion of understanding science 51yeitvgpaland innovation, and founded the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University.)

The movie has many fans. I suspect that when it it is streamed or runs on a movie channel curious viewers run to Google hopeful of learning more about the enigmatic Kearns and his dispute with auto giants. It pitted him as David to their Goliath. (Thanksgiving weekend alone, which is prime movie-watching time, there were more than 1,500 visits to the post on IPCU.)

Even though Kearns eventually won significant awards, $10.2 million from Ford, and a total of $30 million from Chrysler, it is easy to believe that the struggle, which cost him his family and affected his sanity, may not have been worth it.

Apparently, no one thought so except Kearns, a college professor, former cryptographer in WWII and officer at a U.S. agency that was the forerunner of the CIA. (See the link to his obituary on the original IP CloseUp post, above.)

High Search Ranking

The Kearns’ post’s popularity probably also has something to do with its high Google search ranking under Kearns’ iconic name. It’s the second item after a rather tepid Wikipedia entry.

Supporters of the film include Peter Travers, long-time film critic for Rolling Stone. He gave it three out of four stars, saying “Kinnear takes the star spot in Flash of Genius and rides it to glory… Kearns wasn’t a movie hero. His halting courtroom delivery lacked Hollywood histrionics. Kinnear plays him with blunt honesty, sagging under the weight of stress but maintaining a bulldog tenacity that would win the day. Was the battle worth it? Kearns’ conflict is readable in Kinnear’s every word and gesture. His performance is worth cheering”.

Stephen Holden of The New York Times called the film “a meticulously constructed mechanism, one that wants to convey the same mixture of idealism, obsession and paranoia found in whistle-blower movies like Silkwood and The Insider,” thought it “has the tone and texture of a well-made but forgettable television movie”.

Lead actor Greg Kinnear, who in the lead role is more likable than Kearns was, won the Boston Film Festival Best Actor Award for his portrayal.

kearns-familyThe Kearns story strikes a chord deep in everyone. It is a quintessentially American tale of the forward-thinking little guy against diverse array of nay-sayers, his family included. Kearns’ sincerity as an engineer who craved recognition for his work more than his financial security is not lost on audiences, who see Flash of Genius, weaknesses aside, as an emotional and somewhat cautionary tale that is difficult to forget.

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Whether it was ego, anger, greed, or a combination, that ultimately motivated Kearns to go as far as he did for as long, the inventor’s greatest accomplishment may not be the valuable device he created, which no doubt helped save lives, but his perseverance and drive to prove that it was stolen from him.

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Whether or not Kearns was selfish or unbalanced, patent holders have benefited from his trail-blazing determination and refusal to take settlement money when he needed it most.

Stacked Deck

The environment for inventors and innovative small businesses today who wish to license their rights is not much different from when Kearns fought his epic battles. In fact, the obstacles may be worse.

With “efficient” patent infringement the preferred strategy of many the leading technology companies today, and higher validity and patentability hurdles established by the Patent Trial and Appeal board and the courts, the deck continues to be stacked against IP holders – even those with the capital, time and patent quality to succeed.

[Note: A company that employs “efficient” infringement believes that it is highly unlikely it will be caught using an invention it is not entitled to, and if it does, it is unlikely that it will have to pay much. For them, choosing not to take a license unless forced to by the courts is in their view a prudent business decision, ethics aside.]

Flash of Genius is available from Amazon, iTunes and other sources, to stream, rent or buy. Recently, it became available to Netflix subscribers for free. The official movie trailer can be seen here.

For those interested in the topic of Kearns and independent inventing, the long and thoughtful 1993 New Yorker magazine article by John Seabrook on which the movie is based is not to be missed. It is available for free by going here.

To read the original Kearns post on IP CloseUp, go here.

Image source: allesantiago.wordpress.com; amazon.com

 

Reporter: Patent system failed heart valve inventor

One of the biggest obstacle to inventors today may the system created to protect them. Research cardiologist Tory Norred thinks so.  

In a recent post on IP Watchdog, excerpted below, I summarize how investigative reporter Scott Eden skewers the U.S. patent system in the July-August Popular Mechanics article, “How the U.S. Patent System Got So Screwed Up.”

Eden, an award-winning reporter, whose credits include the Wall Street Journal, ESPN and TheStreet, examines the devastating impact of recent changes to the patent system by focusing on an inventor who got caught up in it.

The NPR-style article tells the story of Tory Norred, a fellow in the cardiology program at the University of Missouri cardiologist, who in 1998, came up with the idea for a collapsible prosthetic aortic valve that could be fished up through an artery with a catheter, and implanted in the hearts of patients who suffered from failing aortic valves. Unlike previous valves, Norred’s stent disperses the force needed to hold it in place against the aorta’s walls, requiring no sutures.

gallery-1466458424-pmx07116-patentoffice15In November 2002 he received U.S. Patent No. 6,482,228, “Percutaneous Aortic Valve Replacement.” Norred knew that he was onto something important, but that was not the beginning of success, it was the start of a nightmare that led to repeated frustration.

“That’s my valve!”

Norred spent the next four years talking to venture capitalists, medical products companies and even a Stanford University consultant, in an effort to finance his invention. Despite many quality meetings, no one was interested in providing capital or product development – including the product-development people he signed non-disclosure agreements with at Medtronic, Edwards Lifesciences, Johnson & Johnson, and Guidant.

“By September 2003,” writes Eden, “Norred had all but given up on his dream when he and a colleague were strolling the exhibition hall at an important cardiology congress held annually in Washington, D.C. They came upon a booth occupied by a California startup called CoreValve. With increasing alarm, Norred studied the materials at the booth. He turned to his colleague: ‘That’s my valve!'”

The rest of the story is not unfamiliar: CoreVale basically ignored him, and Norred settled into private practice. Then, in 2009, Norred saw the news online: CoreValve had sold itself to Medtronic for $775 million in cash and future payments.

In fact, collapsible prosthetic valves fished up through an artery with a catheter and implanted in the aorta are well on their way to becoming the standard method of replacing worn-out heart valves. Thee annual market has already surpassed $1.5 billion and is expected to grow.

Immediate Suspicion

The remainder of “How the U.S. Patent System Got So Screwed Up,” is devoted to the slow decline of the patents system over the past decade, and how a handful of patent “trolls” have been used as the reason to systematically dismantle much of the patent system. The same system that was the envy of the free-world and spawned many breakthrough inventions, as well as successful businesses that employ millions.

“Norred wasn’t a troll,” continues the article, “and the decision to sue did not come easily for him. His lawyer told him that the cost to litigate could exceed half a million dollars. Norred did not have half a million dollars. He considered letting it drop and moving on with his life, but in the end he couldn’t. ‘It’s gallery-1466458804-pmx07116-patentoffice17hard to give up on something you’ve worked so hard on,’ he said.”

“Whenever an independent inventor sues for infringement today, an immediate suspicion attaches to the case,” states Eden. “The anti-patent feeling is such that to assert one is to become stigmatized as a troll or, worse, a con artist or a quack. But there’s another way to look at these litigants. It could be that an inventor-plaintiff is a modern-day Bob Kearns, the Michigan engineer who spent decades fighting the global automobile manufacturing industry over the intermittent windshield wiper. They made a movie about it called Flash of Genius.

Greater Uncertainty

Inter partes reviews (IPRs) were supposed to clear up much of the uncertainty surrounding patents that are thought to be infringed, by determining which, if any, of their claims are valid in the first place. But IPRs also have had an unfortunate side effect. IPR tribunals make it easier for sophisticated defendants to kill patents held by legitimate inventors.

“The IPR isn’t an effort to figure out whether an inventor invented something,” says Ron Epstein, the former Intel attorney. “It has turned into a process where you use every i-dot and t-cross in the law to try to blow up patents… There isn’t a patent that doesn’t have some potential area of ambiguity.”

Go here to read, “How the U.S. Patent System Got So Screwed Up.”

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Popular Mechanics was first published in 1902. It is known as the monthly bible of the independent inventor. 

In 2011, two of Scott Eden’s pieces received “Best in Business” awards from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers (one for investigative reporting and one for feature writing). Eden is former staff reporter for TheStreet and Dow Jones Newswires.

Image source: popularmechanics.com

Annual report: IP CloseUp visits are up 32% in 2015 to 24,000


2015 was a year of growth for IP CloseUp, as visits increased to 24,000 and subscriptions were up, too.

The busiest day of the year was Christmas Day when there were 482 views of Kearns’ Son Still Fuming Over Wiper Blade Fight.”

The post about the continued anger of inventor Robert Kearns family over his treatment by automobile makers, depicted in the movie, “Flash of Genius,” was the most popular for 2015, with, with 6,760 visits. It continues to be a marshall.11-640x480perennial favorite.

Other popular IP CloseUp posts for 2015 were “For Samsung charity begins at ‘home’; Midland, TX,”

“Leading brands increasingly have the most valuable patents,”

“Silicon Valley: Too big to fail, or too big not to?” and

“Low R&D cost per patent is a poor indicator of Flash_of_genius_post[1]good return.”

The most avid readers were from the U.S., Canada and the UK, followed by Germany, Australia, India, Brazil, the Netherlands and Japan. In all, readers from 131 countries accessed IPCU posts in 2015.

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Thank you readers for making IP CloseUp one of the most respected IP blogs, followed not just by IP professionals, but by investors, business executives and journalists.

Readers: Please keep sending your comments – We love hearing from you!

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Six Years of Talks Fail in Ford Patent Dispute

Flash(back) of Genius?

Ford Motor Company was sued twice in one week by businesses that say it is infringing their hands-free inventions, including the company’s popular SYNC voice-command technology

If it looks like we are having a flashback to the Kearns intermittent windshield wiper debacle, popularized in the 2008 movie, Flash of Genius, you may be right. However, this time there is a contemporary twist: a successful backer.

Eagle Harbor Holdings LLC and its subsidiary and exclusive licensee, MediusTech, LLC have filed a federal lawsuit against Ford Motor Company, accusing the carmaker of infringing on seven of their patents by selling Ford’s SYNC voice-command based interface that lets drivers seamlessly connect their car and mobile phone and other devices. (Eagle Harbor announcement.)

Eagle Harbor says that Ford cut off talks in 2008 after six years of discussion.

Wayne State (Michigan) University Law Prof Katherine E. White was quoted in the press as saying “Injunctions have become very difficult to get now for companies that don’t make anything. Big companies can afford to pay the damages later. What they can’t afford is to stop producing.”

The new twist: Eagle Harbor is backed by the Northwater Intellectual Property Fund, an investor in i4i, a Canadian company that was awarded $290 million in patent dispute against Microsoft that was upheld on June 10 by the United States Supreme Court.  Susman Godfrey is representing the plaintiffs in the in the matter.

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Many of you will recall that Ford agreed to pay $10.2 million to Robert Kearns, who invented intermittent windshield wipers, in a highly publicized 1990 case. The matter was the subject of  “Flash of Genius” a modest critical success starring Greg Kinnear about Kearn’s painful two decade-long battle with the auto industry. Kearns later also received $30 million from Chrysler.

Also last  week, reports Patent Connections, Ford was sued by Kar Enterprises, LLC who filed a complaint for patent infringement against Ford Motor Company for alleged infringement of patents US 7,959,177 (issued 6/14/2011) and US 7,757,803 (issued 7/20/2010) regarding a “Motor vehicle operator identification and maximum speed limiter.” The lawsuit specifically identifies Ford’s MyKey® technology as the offending product.

About a year ago, Ford settled a longstanding case brought by a Florida company, Paice, that accused the company of infringing on a 1994 patent for hybrid technology. Ford agreed to license the Paice technology, but the terms were not released publicly. Paice also had sued Toyota, which agreed to license 23 patented technologies.

Popular Mechanics ranked SYNCH number four on its list of “Top 10 Most Brilliant Gadgets for 2007.”  “SYNC” is a registered trademark of Ford Motor Company. Normally Ford does not apply the brand of its suppliers to the parts or systems the suppliers manufacture for Ford. However, the vehicle interior badges for cars equipped with the SYNC system include both the SYNC and Microsoft brands.

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The reporting on the SYNCH suit in The New York Times by an auto industry reporter Neil Bunkley was surprisingly solid. (As many of you well aware, when it comes to IP coverage the mainstream business press is not always fully up to speed the issues or aware of the various agenda of the participants it sources.) Matters of this nature often play out as a simple “troll” tale, a business attempting to extort money from a real innovator.

However, reporter Bunkley, who writes the Wheels blog for the The Times and has worked for The Detroit News, did a fine job resisting the simple story for what appears to be the correct one.

Illustration source: blog.dialaphone.co.uk


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