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.


Post a comment to this story

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
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  2. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  3. Paul Hartman of Burbank, Oh who is helping Sister Fuller with this Con Artist Kevin Bart McCarthy scares Sister Joseph Therese, Patricia Ann Fuller very much that McCarthy will try and hurt Patricia Ann Fuller and Paul Hartman of Burbank, Oh or any member of his family. Sister is very, very scared, (YES, I AM) This McCarthy guy is a real, real CON MAN and crook. I try to totall flatter Kevin Bart McCARTHY to keep him from hurting my best friends in this world which are Carolyn Rose and Paul Hartman. I Live in total fear of this man Kevin Bart McCarthy and try to praise him as a good man to keep us ALL from his bad deeds. This man could easy have some one cause us a very bad disability. You have to PRAISAE in order TO PROTECT yourself. He lies and makes up stories about people and then tries to steal if THEY OWN THRU THE COURTS A SPECIAL DEVOTION TO PROTECT, EX> Our Lady of America DEVOTION. EVERYONE who reads this, PLEASE BE CAREFUL of Kevin Bart McCarthy of Indianapolis, IN My Phone No. IS 419-435-3838.

  4. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.

  5. I had a hospital and dcs caseworker falsify reports that my child was born with drugs in her system. I filed a complaint with the Indiana department of health....and they found that the hospital falsified drug screens in their investigation. Then I filed a complaint with human health services in Washington DC...dcs drug Testing is unregulated and is indicating false positives...they are currently being investigated by human health services. Then I located an attorney and signed contracts one month ago to sue dcs and Anderson community hospital. Once the suit is filed I am taking out a loan against the suit and paying a law firm to file a writ of mandamus challenging the courts jurisdiction to invoke chins case against me. I also forwarded evidence to a u.s. senator who contacted hhs to push an investigation faster. Once the lawsuit is filed local news stations will be running coverage on the situation. Easy day....people will be losing their jobs soon...and judge pancol...who has attempted to cover up what has happened will also be in trouble. The drug testing is a kids for cash and federal funding situation.