Inventor Wins $21 Million in Kawasaki Suit : Litigation: The Lake Tahoe resident has battled the firm since 1971 over patents for a high-speed water ski he created.

From a Times Staff Writer

A Federal District Court jury in Los Angeles on Tuesday awarded Clayton Jacobson, the inventor of the jet ski, a $21.5-million judgment against Kawasaki Heavy Industries of Japan and its U.S. subsidiaries.

Jacobson, a former Los Angeles resident who now lives in Lake Tahoe, has battled the Japanese company since about 1971, when he first granted them license to manufacture and sell the jet ski, a high-speed, motorized water ski referred to as a “personal watercraft.”

“I’m still in shock a little bit. It’s really been a long war,” Jacobson said on Tuesday afternoon.


Jacobson began working on the jet ski in 1961, he said, while living in Los Angeles and working in the family’s banking business. He quit banking in 1966 to pursue the invention.

The jury upheld Jacobson’s claim that he had been libeled and slandered by Kawasaki’s claims that it had invented the jet ski.

Jacobson also said Kawasaki falsely obtained Japanese patents on his invention and improvements. The court must still rule on Jacobson’s request that the Japanese patents be assigned to him.

Although the jury failed to award Jacobson an additional $30 million in damages he had sought on claims of fraud and breach of contract, the inventor said he was pleased that the judgment “gives me the recognition which I had been denied. I feel comfortable with that.” Of the $21-million award Tuesday, half was for punitive damages.

Kawasaki Motors Corp., Kawasaki’s Irvine-based subsidiary, issued a statement in which it said it “is disappointed at the jury’s verdict in the slander of title and libel claims” but added it “remains confident that its position will ultimately be supported by the courts.” Kawasaki officials declined to say whether its statement meant it would appeal the jury’s verdict.

Kawasaki’s claims of inventing the jet ski, and its Japanese patents, set high hurdles for Jacobson in his attempts to license his invention to other manufacturers--a right he won in settlement of a 1976 suit.