DETROIT -- Robert Kearns, the inventor of intermittent windshield wipers, who won multimillion-dollar judgments against Ford and Chrysler for using his idea, has died. He was 77.
Mr. Kearns died of cancer on Feb. 9 at his home in suburban Baltimore, his family said.
Mr. Kearns, a onetime professor at Wayne State University, received numerous patents in 1967 for his design for wipers that paused between swipes, making them useful in very light rain or mist.
He shopped his invention around to various automakers but did not reach a licensing deal with any of them. But carmakers eventually began offering intermittent wipers as standard or optional equipment.
Mr. Kearns sued
In 1990, a jury decided that Ford infringed on Mr. Kearns's patent, though it concluded the infringement was not deliberate. Ford had contended the patent was invalid because the windshield system contained no new concepts. But Mr. Kearns argued a new combination of parts made his invention unique.
That jury failed to reach agreement on how much he should be awarded, and another jury later ordered Ford to pay Mr. Kearns $6.3 million, trimmed by a judge to $5.2 million. To settle the case, the car giant later agreed to pay $10.2 million and to drop all appeals. Chrysler ended up being ordered to pay Mr. Kearns $18.7 million plus interest. The Supreme Court rejected Chrysler's bid to overturn the award in 1995.
''I don't think the goal was the magnitude of the money," Mr. Kearns said when the Ford case was ended. ''What I saw [as] my role was to defend the patent system. If I don't go further, there really isn't a patent system."
Later, though, Mr. Kearns' lawsuit against
Mr. Kearns, who was acting as his own lawyer during parts of the long battle, was disappointed because the courts did not bar the companies from continuing to use the wipers. He had hoped not just to collect royalties but to make the devices himself.
Mr. Kearns was born in Gary, Ind. He served in World War II. After the war, he earned engineering degrees from the University of Detroit and Wayne State University and a doctorate from Case Western Reserve University.