Windshield wipers are a vital component of a car.
However, countless other components in cars are also important. Excluding the vast majority of auto components from innowiki is a purposeful decision. Undoubtedly, these components are oftentimes enormous markets. However, they do not teach us about anything especially important. They are components in a larger machine.
Accordingly, we’ve tried to separate cases from the meaning behind the cases we make a special exception for windshield wipers. They illustrate the difficulty of personally profiting from one’s work, even after successful commercialization.
Particularly in the case of windshield wipers, auto companies refused to pay, declaring the invention was “obvious” after-the-fact. Different patent offices around the world carry differing definitions of “obviousness” creating a slippery slope. Undeniably, countless inventions intuitively feel obvious after-the-fact. And, arguably, countless innovators were lucky with timing. To read more, switch over to the analytical part of the site.
Windshield Wiper Inventors
All three major windshield-wiper inventors had their patents blatantly infringed.
Noticing that it was difficult to see, Mary Anderson realized the need to keep windshields dry in the rain. Subsequently, she invented a hand crank to wipe the water off auto windshields. She hired an engineering firm to perfect the device and patented it in 1903. However, nobody purchased nor licensed the patents.
Charlotte Bridgwood invented and patented the automatic electric wiper in 1917; nobody paid her either.
Robert Kearns invented and patented the variable speed wiper in 1969. Nobody paid him either until he engaged in a prolonged series of lawsuits and prevailed against Ford ($10.1M), Chrysler ($18.7M initially – $30M in final verdict after $10M in legal fees).
Kearns served as his own lawyer for much of the litigation though at least four firms he hired throughout quit, saying he was too difficult to work with. He lost cases against GM, Mercedes, and Japanese companies on technicalities usually related to filing deadlines. The 2008 movie Flash of Genius is about Kearns and his legal battles.