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AUTOS : Chrysler Told to Pay Inventor $11.3 Million

From Reuters

In a second victory for inventor Robert Kearns, a jury ruled Thursday that Chrysler Corp. should pay $11.3 million for infringing his patent for an intermittent windshield wiper.

Kearns, 64, won the patent infringement case against Chrysler last December.

A federal jury found then that Chrysler infringed on four patents for intermittent wiper systems designed by Kearns.

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However, in Thursday’s decision, the jury ruled that Chrysler’s infringement was not willful and ordered the No. 3 auto maker to pay Kearns 90 cents for every vehicle sold with the wiper system between May, 1977, and August, 1988. According to court documents, Chrysler sold 12,564,107 vehicles during that period.

Kearns said he was seeking anywhere from $3 to nearly $30 per car, or $37.7 million to $377 million in damages.

Had the jury found that Chrysler’s actions were willful, U.S. District Judge Avern Cohen could have awarded Kearns triple damages.

The inventor fired his lawyers several months ago and represented himself in the damage portion of the trial.

Chrysler said it will appeal the verdict.

“We believe the amount of the verdict is unreasonable and excessive and far exceeds any possible value of the Kearns’ patents,” Chrysler spokesman Thomas Houston said.

Kearns, a former engineering professor, said he will also file an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Detroit to seek an extension of his patents, which expired in 1988.

“Chrysler not only took the use of the patents, but they really took my time,” Kearns told reporters outside the courtroom. He said he would like to open his own intermittent wiper manufacturing company and supply the devices to all major auto makers.

Kearns first patented his intermittent wiper system in 1967. The device is now offered on most major cars and trucks today.

He said it will probably take 16 months before he gets a check from Chrysler.

He said Cohen has set a tentative court date of Oct. 19 to settle all remaining litigation between Kearns and most major auto makers in one giant court case.

Kearns has sued General Motors Corp., Toyota Motor Corp., Fiat and most major Japanese car manufacturers.

In November, 1990, Kearns settled a case with Ford Motor Co. for $10.2 million, or about 30 cents a car. The inventor said at the time that he was pressured to accept the Ford settlement by his lawyers.

Kearns said nearly all of that money is gone now. He said he spent $4 million fighting Ford and expects to spend about $5.5 million on the Chrysler case by the time the appeals are over.

In addition, Kearns said one of his former law firms has filed a claim for a third of the Chrysler settlement, claiming that they were entitled to the money for legal services rendered before Kearns dismissed them.

He said he was disappointed with the verdict but vowed to continue his fight against the other auto makers.

“It’s a great disappointment,” he said. “I’m disappointed for America; I’m not disappointed for Bob Kearns. Chrysler walked away with $354 million in profit for willful conduct by walking away with someone else’s patent.”

However, he said the verdict sends a message that individual investors can win when they go up against large corporations.

“It shows that it’s possible. It shows that you can do it and others can do it as well,” Kearns said.


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