Saturday, May 23, 2009

Flash of Genius

I know I'm late, but last night I watched the film Flash of Genius. The movie is about a doctor by the name of Robert Kearns, who invented the Intermittent Windshield Wiper (windshield wipers that can go at various speeds), fighting against Ford Motor Company for stealing his invention. This movie being based in Detroit was one reason why I loved it, but there was a specific scene in the movie that gave me goosebumps.

Let me set up the scene in your head first. Dr. Kearns is representing himself because of the lack of money, there's a man who's has a PhD in electrical engineering, Professor Chapman, sitting at the stand and he's being questioned by Ford's lawyer. The lawyer asked the PhD recipient to explain the dynamics of the windshield whiper that Dr. Kearns claims he invented. The professor begins to talk about the three parts of the winshield whipers' motor and how they work together to make it work...and how neither of the three parts were created by Dr. Kearns, because they have existed well before Dr. Kearns was born. "No further questions" was stated, and then came the good part. The cross-examination. Dr. Kearns approached the podium with Charles Dickins' Tale of Two Cities book. Because I have the movie right here, I can quote what was said:

Dr. Kearn: I liked to read the first few words if I may. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness." Let's start with the first word, "It." did Charles Dickins create that word?
Professor Chapman: No.
Dr. Kearn: What about "was?"
Professor Chapman: No.
Dr. Kearn: "The?"
Professor Chapman: No.
Dr. Kearn: "Best?"
Professor Chapman: No.
Dr. Kearn: "of?"
Professor Chapman: No.
Dr. Kearn: Look, I have a dictionary here, and I haven't checked, but I would guess that every word in this book could be found in this dictionary.
Professor Chapman: Well I suspect that that's probably true.

Dr. Kearn: Ok, so you agree that there's not probably a single new word in this book?
Professor Chapman: Well, I don't know, but that's probably true.
Dr. Kearn: All Charles Dickins did was arrange them in a new pattern isn't that right?
Professor Chapman: Well I admit I haven't thought about it that way.
Dr. Kearn: But Dickins did create something new didn't he, by using words...the only tools that were available to him. Just as almost all inventors in history have had to use the tools that were available to them...all of these inventions that were made from parts that already existed right?
Professor Chapman: I guess that's technically true....
Dr. Kearn: No further questions.

1 comment:

Dennis Kearns said...

My Dad, Robert Kearns, worked on the film for about 5 years before his death. Greg never got a opportunity to meet him, but did a magnificent job of becoming him.

The scene you describe is taken directly from the trial transcript.

Perhaps more would have seen this movie in the US had it not come out just as the Automotive Industry started whining about about their inability to manage their businesses without Billions of OUR dollars?

I noticed Universal had put it on their Oscar Contenders website. Then removed it a few days later.

I'm proud to have been a consultant on the movie and to have participated in the reality.

Bob Kearns won 5 jury trials against some of the biggest corporations in the world. It was what he had learned in school, it was what he as an engineering professor taught. Patents were granted to protect the inventors rights.

Perhaps his idealism was from his Jesuit training at the University of Detroit.

His U.S. Marine Corps training taught him when a bully picks a fight you don't back down. No matter the odds.

As for the other players:

The law firm that started the suits on our behalf represented Chrysler against us.

The Federal Judge Avern Cohn who had presided over the case and his former silk-stocking law partners along with Henry Ford II's friend Max Fisher, were estimated to have made a 2000% profit on the sale of property for Chrysler's World Headquarters (Detroit: Race and Uneven Development 1990)

Dennis Kearns