« Enabling | Main | Inequitable Conduct »

October 3, 2008

Flash of Genius

The movie Flash of Genius, about intermittent windshield wiper inventor Bob Kearns, is sketchy, edgy, and uncomfortable. Bob becomes obsessed with righteousness over his invention, e.g. 4,339,698, stolen by Ford Motor Corporation, and quickly adopted by other auto makers. Bob comes unglued. Bob refuses to settle only for money, wanting admission by Ford that they took his invention.

This biographical film has a documentary feel. The story has a first-person perspective, but is not told in the first person, as there is no voiceover. Only a few brief scenes don't have Bob in them. The film may well have been purposely sketchy at points, to give the viewer a sense of the discombobulation that Bob must have himself felt.

Synopsis from the film company:

Based on the true story of college professor and part-time inventor Robert Kearns's (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 would come at a heavy price. But this determined engineer refused to be silenced, and he took on the corporate titans in a battle that nobody thought he could win.

The Kearns were a typical 1960s Detroit family, trying to live their version of the American Dream. Local university professor Bob married teacher Phyllis (Lauren Graham) and, by their mid-thirties, had six kids who brought them a hectic but satisfying Midwestern existence. 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 Bob's creation unceremoniously shunned the man who invented it.

Ignored, threatened and then buried in years of litigation, Bob is haunted by what was done to his family and their future. He becomes a man obsessed with justice and the conviction that his life's work -- or for that matter, anyone's work -- be acknowledged by those who stood to benefit. And while paying the toll for refusing to compromise his dignity, this everyday David will try the unthinkable: to bring Goliath to his knees.

Flash of Genius is understated and gritty, fitting to the story it unravels: a creative but flawed man in over his depth.

On the surface, this character study seems to go on too long, but perhaps only because it is at times hard to watch, because it takes an emotional toll, so keenly felt, which is itself a mark of fine storytelling craft. Clearly the film makers cared about their subject.

After it's over, the story replays in the mind as a haunting echo of invention and corporate corruption, a timeless tale repeatedly retold so often, even now, in the same arena. It is hard to recommend something so discomforting, but the film is a must-see for those interested in justice and the price that can be extracted from those who pursue it.

The Flash of Genius web site has a lot of background on the film, including a short primer on filing a patent. For more information about getting patents, visit Platinum Patents.

Posted by Patent Hawk at October 3, 2008 8:09 PM | Patents In Business


I liked the movie but found it lacking something to create a complete picture of a corporate jungle we all live in..
The movie is missing all those behind the scene talks between Ford execs and their lawyers about the optimal strategy for screwing Bob Kearns...
For some reason the movie makers chose not to insult Ford execs too much and left the jucy stuff out
But, of course, the movie makers never had their hard-earned patents stolen by the korporate scumbags...

Posted by: angry dude at October 4, 2008 9:17 PM

We have of course a very similar situation in which a cartel, joint in a collusive pact to murder a small ultra innovative company called Rambus has managed to prolong patent litigation for almost a decade while stealing in broad day light a host of revolutionary technologies that enable synchronous DRAM and therefore were vital to the speed leaps the computerized world at large (Government, Insurance, banks, cellular communication, military, international trade and cooperation, big, mid and small business, personal consumer computing, gaming…etc etc) has enjoyed from the mid nineties till this very day…fortunately for Rambus the cartel did a lousy job in covering their tracks and Rambus had the wisdom to a) secure a litigation war chest (credit to the CEO, HH) b) hire the best legal team available (Stone from MTO, credit to John Danforth ex Rambus corporate counsel) and c) having the fair (albeit slow) Judge Ronald Whyte from San Jose presiding on these protracted litigations. The dram cartel will soon (relatively speaking…) in a matter of just six months will finally feel the wrath of justice come the January DDR2 trial and the final AT battle in Judge Kramer's court. This time the criminals will not escape!!!!!

Posted by: Regata De Blank at October 5, 2008 1:17 AM

Did you see the "Director's Cit" of the movie? Apparently, it is filmed as if present day law was applied. We see Bob's application rejected by Examiner after Examiner, and KSR proves the death knell. Ford is vindicated as a non-infringer, and the closing scene involves Henry Ford driving away, splashing Bob with the spray from the intermittent wipers . . .

Posted by: The Mad Prosecutor at October 6, 2008 7:48 AM