Should Courts Award Pain and Suffering Damages in Patent Infringement Cases?
17 Pages Posted: 19 Dec 2017 Last revised: 25 Jul 2019
Date Written: April 1, 2017
After inventing the intermittent windshield wiper, Robert Kearns tried to interest the “Big Three” automakers in licensing this technology. After rejecting his proposal, these companies all began using his patent without his permission and installing intermittent wipers on their cars. When Kearns filed suit against Ford in 1978 for patent infringement, he did not have a lawyer. Although he had no legal background, he represented himself with help from his family. In response, Ford did what many companies do in patent cases: it began stalling in the hopes that Kearns would run out of money. The lawsuit against Ford became Kearns’ life — he poured all of his time and every penny he had into it even though the case would not go to trial until 1990, twelve years after the suit was filed. He was not interested in money, but in getting his justice. Eventually Kerns settled with Ford for $10.2 million, yet the fight with Ford and other companies over their infringement took a toll on his mental health, leading to a nervous breakdown and strained relationships with his family. Kearns' story of a solo inventor being robbed of his invention by a large corporation and then suffering mental distress, even if less prevalent now simply because solo inventors are less common than they once were, is by no means unique.
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