ILNews

Connected attorney reflects on patent film

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

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.

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Indiana State Bar Association

Indianapolis Bar Association

Evansville Bar Association

Allen County Bar Association

Indiana Lawyer on Facebook

facebook
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  2. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

  3. This outbreak illustrates the absurdity of the extreme positions taken by today's liberalism, specifically individualism and the modern cult of endless personal "freedom." Ebola reminds us that at some point the person's own "freedom" to do this and that comes into contact with the needs of the common good and "freedom" must be curtailed. This is not rocket science, except, today there is nonstop propaganda elevating individual preferences over the common good, so some pundits have a hard time fathoming the obvious necessity of quarantine in some situations....or even NATIONAL BORDERS...propagandists have also amazingly used this as another chance to accuse Western nations of "racism" which is preposterous and offensive. So one the one hand the idolatry of individualism has to stop and on the other hand facts people don't like that intersect with race-- remain facts nonetheless. People who respond to facts over propaganda do better in the long run. We call it Truth. Sometimes it seems hard to find.

  4. It would be hard not to feel the Kramers' anguish. But Catholic Charities, by definition, performed due diligence and held to the statutory standard of care. No good can come from punishing them for doing their duty. Should Indiana wish to change its laws regarding adoption agreements and or putative fathers, the place for that is the legislature and can only apply to future cases. We do not apply new laws to past actions, as the Kramers seem intent on doing, to no helpful end.

  5. I am saddened to hear about the loss of Zeff Weiss. He was an outstanding member of the Indianapolis legal community. My thoughts are with his family.

ADVERTISEMENT