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Flash of Genius

In: Film and Music

Submitted By wiperman
Words 435
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Why bother? Why not just pay the guy royalties? Simple: Because Ford thought it could get away with it. He was only a college professor. They had teams of high-priced lawyers with infinite patience. They risked having the legal fees cost them more than the patent rights, but what the hell. You can't go around encouraging these pipsqueaks.

I know that I sound just like a liberal, but at this point in history I am sick and tired of giant corporations running roughshod over decent people -- cutting their wages, polluting their work environment, denying them health care, forcing them to work unpaid overtime, busting their unions and other crimes we have never heard George Bush denouncing while he was cutting corporate taxes. I am sure lower taxes help corporations to function more profitably. Why is that considered progress, when many workers live in borderline poverty and executives have pissing contests over who has the biggest stock options?

But enough. I have "Flash of Genius" to review. Yes, I am agitated. I am writing during days of economic meltdown, after Wall Street raped Main Street while the Bush ideology held it down. Believe me, I could go on like this all day. But consider the case of Robert Kearns, played here touchingly by Greg Kinnear. He was a professor of engineering, a decent, unremarkable family man, and had a eureka! moment: Why did windshield wipers only go on and off? Why couldn't they reflect existing conditions, as the human eyelid does?

Working in his basement, Kearns put together the first intermittent wiper from off-the-shelf components and tested it in a fish tank. He patented it in 1967. He demonstrated it to Ford, but wouldn't tell them how it worked until he had a deal. After Ford ripped it off and reneged on the deal, he sued in 1982. Thirteen years later, he won $30 million in a settlement where the automakers didn't have to admit deliberate theft.

"Flash of Genius" tells this story in faithful and often moving detail. If it has a handicap, it's that Kearns was not a colorful character, more of a very stubborn man with tunnel vision. He alienates his family, angers his business partner (Dermot Mulroney) and sorely tries the patience of his lawyer (Alan Alda), who he is not afraid to accuse of incompetence. Was his victory worth it? The movie asks us to decide. For Kearns, as depicted in this movie, it was. If he had not been obsessively obstinate, Ford would have been counting its stolen dollars.

Rogert ebert…...

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