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Windshield wipers are among the things I don’t think of replacing until I’m in the car and realize that piece of flapping rubber isn’t clearing off the rain or snow. Yet once I have new ones on I am amazed at how much better I can see. Since I vaguely remembered a story about an inventor of the intermittent wipers I did some research.

Robert Kearns is credited with the invention of the intermittent wiper:

Kearns won one of the best known patent infringement cases against Ford Motor Company (1978–1990) and a case against Chrysler Corporation (1982–1992). Having invented and patented the intermittent windshield wiper mechanism, which was useful in light rain or mist, he tried to interest the “Big Three” auto makers in licensing the technology. They all rejected his proposal, yet began to install intermittent wipers in their cars, beginning in 1969.

Robert Kearns story is the “David versus Goliath” story. Kearns filed for his first patent in December of 1964. He showed his patented invention to the auto companies who began using it but didn’t pay him anything. After spending $10 million on legal fees he eventually got $10 million from Ford and $30 million from Chrysler. Because he was acting as his own attorney, he missed filing deadlines in his suits against other auto manufacturers and the suits were dismissed. This is a story of persistence and of corporate greed. I love this story because all those advocates of the free for all market economy would swear that such things couldn’t happen. Next time someone tells you that ‘the system’ is fair, tell them about Robert Kearns.

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