Eventually, while attending a Ford dealers convention displaying the Mustang, he discovers Ford used his design without his consent, credit or payment, and decides to sue Ford.
This film provides examples of the following tropes:
- Adaptation Explanation Extrication: Kearns is awarded $10.1 million in damages against Ford in 1980. The epilogue reveals he sued Chrysler in 1992 and was awarded $18.7 million. Why Chrysler paid more is never explained. Kearns actually took an undisclosed out-of-court settlement believed to be around $10 million in the suit against Ford, while Chrysler lost and was ordered to pay damages, hence the higher amount. Also not mentioned is General Motors, who was imune from lawsuit because they designed their own intermittent wiper that did not infringe on Kearns' patents.
- Artistic License History: Kearns did not represent himself in his suit against Ford, nor were any damages awarded; Ford made an undisclosed offer believed to be around $10 million, which Kearns accepted.
- Bittersweet Ending: Kearns wins and Ford must admit they stole his design, but his family leaves him long before the trial.
- A Fool for a Client: Kearns represents himself against Ford in 1980, after his attorney, Gregory Lawson (Alan Alda), withdraws from the case, and is awarded $10.1 million in damages. In Real Life, Lawson did not withdraw, and Kearns was in fact represented by a team of lawyers, and actually settled with Ford for the $10 million. Kearns did, however, represent himself against Chrysler in 1992, receiving $18.7 million in damages. It's possible this was done so as to have a scene where Kearns examines himself in homage to an episode of King of the Hill.
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Ford offers Kearns a $30 million settlement with no admission of wrongdoing. He rejects this, instead going to court, where he's awarded $10.1 million. In Real Life, he subverts this, as he was actually trying to obtain exclusive manufacturing rights (today, over 145 million cars use his design), not for any moral reasons, and eventually settled out of court (he was awarded damages in the suit against Chrysler).
- What Happened to the Mouse?: We never find out what happens regarding Kearns' vandalism of some random person's brand new Cadillac.
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The closing credits mention that Kearns was awarded $18.7 million in a lawsuit against Chrysler Corp. in 1992, and that he died in 2005.