Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Flash of Genius


It occurred to me while watching that this film should have been called Splash of Genius. We’ve seen plenty of movies about great inventors and their brain children: Edison and the light bulb, Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone, Ned Brainerd and Flubber … but intermittent windshield wipers? I mean, they’re on my car, and they’re on your car, and they’re nice to have, but they’re more like a better mousetrap than something truly revolutionary like, say, the transistor, the laser, or the Frisbee.

Well, the movie is not really about the invention. We get that out of the way in the first 20 minutes. It’s a David and Goliath story, and we all love them, don’t we? This is the true story of Robert Kearns, who really did invent the device, and who really did have it stolen by the Ford Motor Company and others. Why? Well, basically because they could. Bear in mind that corporations have no morals. They are prevented, by law, from having morals. By law, they must consider only the share-holders and the bottom line, and they are restrained (some of the time) only by law and regulation from doing anything in the world they damn well please so long as it shows a profit.

SPOILER WARNING … as if you somehow don’t know how it all comes out …

So what’s the downside of ripping off a little man who has something you want? Little or none … unless the little guy won’t sit still for it, and is willing to wreck his mental health, physical health, job, and family to fight you. Robert Kearns did all that, and he won, more or less. Ford never had to admit wrong-doing, but they had to pay $10 million … which was probably a fraction of their legal fees, but so what? A corporation like Ford has literally thousands of lawyers on retainer. They have to have something to do.

How long did it take from Kearns’ first patent until his victory over Ford? Only 26 years. What was amazing was that it ever got into court at all. This is a swell little move that grows on you. It’s understated, but the rooting interest increases until you get that feel-good punch at the end. It shows that you can fight City Hall and/or the other Big Boys. All you have to do is be willing to give up your life.