Connected attorney reflects on patent film

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After seeing the film "Flash of Genius," about a man who sued the auto industry over what he claimed was his design for intermittent windshield wipers, an Indianapolis attorney who represented Mercedes (Daimler-Benz Aktiengesellschaft) against the real life Bob Kearns has his own take on the film.

"It's clearly a composite," said Donald Knebel, co-chair of Barnes & Thornburg's intellectual property department.

The film is based on an article that was published in The New Yorker, and input from Kearns' family. Kearns died in 2005.

Knebel said the film shows Kearns' legal fight against Ford regarding Kearns' claim that Ford intentionally stole his design for intermittent windshield wipers. Kearns won that lawsuit in the film and in reality.

In reality, Kearns also filed suit against Chrysler and won. Kearns filed suit against the entire auto industry, but after he refused to hire a lawyer after a judge at the federal level told Kearns he needed one to continue his case, the judge dropped that case.

Knebel added that Kearns went through a handful of law firms before representing himself pro se at the federal level against various American, European, and Japanese carmakers, likely because he wouldn't listen to or take their advice.

Even after winning large awards and receiving large settlement offers, Knebel said, Kearns didn't automatically take any of the money because he saw it as more important that the automakers publicly admit they intentionally stole from him and they should admit their fault by buying full-page newspaper ads, mentioning Kearns in manuals for cars that used the intermittent wipers, and in other ways that would associate Kearns' name with the invention. The film also shows Kearns turning down a total of approximately $30 million in verdict money, which really happened.

The film portrays the auto industry in an unflattering light, something Knebel said he wasn't too surprised to see based on the previews and what sells movie tickets for a David versus Goliath story.

But Knebel added that while the film sometimes portrays Kearns in unattractive ways - such as when he breaks into a car - they left out some of the seedier parts of Kearns' story.

For instance, "Kearns' son, a licensed private detective, surreptitiously obtained from the defendants' counsel's law offices confidential documents of the defendants. Kearns refused to disclose how he or his son had obtained the documents, but it was later determined that Kearns' son had obtained them from a paralegal at the law firm after he had developed an intimate relationship with her. The son also apparently took some of the documents himself. Kearns attached these documents to his motion for summary judgment on the issue of infringement," according to court documents from a decision of the United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit, in Kearns v. Wood Motors Inc., et al. Daimler-Benz Aktiengesellschaft and Porsche were also defendants in that suit.

Because of this action, the judge fined Kearns $100,000. Instead of getting the money from Kearns, "I collected the money (including interest) from a court account (that included Kearns' court awards) and sent the check to Germany," Knebel said, adding he wasn't sure if Kearns ever actually received any of the money he was awarded in court.

What does Knebel really find remarkable about the film?

"What's interesting to me is that the movie business would think a patent lawsuit would be interesting enough to be made into a movie," he said, adding that in reality patent lawsuits aren't always the most exciting types of cases.

Some of the true-to-life scenes added humor to the film, Knebel said, such as when Kearns asks himself questions in court, and when he brings in a beat-up old windshield, which really did happen.


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  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues