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Film / Flash of Genius

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Flash of Genius (2008) is the story of Robert Kearns (Greg Kinnear), who develops and patents the intermittent windshield wiper. When he displays it to Ford Motor Company executives, he makes a deal to manufacture it himself and sell it to them.

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.
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  • Amicable Exes: Robert and Phyllis become this after she leaves him since Robert's obsession with taking Ford to court alienated him from his family.
  • 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. However, Kearns did represent himself against Chrysler and won.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Kearns wins his lawsuit against Ford, the jury awarded him $10.1 million believing Ford stole his wiper design, but came after years of being estranged from his wife and kids. Doubles as Pyrrhic Victory.
  • Blatant Lies: Since we know he's the true inventor of the wiper, everything Ford executives say about Kearns not being the inventor and them going with another inventor's design being the reason they backed out of their deal is considered this.
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  • A Fool for a Client: Kearns represented 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 whole team of lawyers, and actually got the $10.1 million as a settlement from Ford. 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.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The Ford executives seems to be this.
  • David Versus Goliath: Robert Kearns vs. Ford Motor Company.
  • Determinator: Kearns tried for over a decade to get Ford in court after being obsessed with proving they stole his invention. Not to mention while his wife urging him to take Ford's initial settlement offer and his business partner Gil Previck abandoning him in his fight against Ford.
  • How We Got Here: The movie begins in 1963 with Robert Kearns on a Greyhound bus and being picked up by Maryland state troopers. The movie flashes back three years earlier on the night he comes up with the idea of the intermittent wiper. It is later revealed that he was on a Heroic BSoD from Ford stealing his invention and his wife reported him missing.
  • Precision F-Strike: When Robert's oldest son tells him, "Fuck Charlie DeFeo."
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Ford initially offers a $250,000 settlement with no admission of theft so Robert declines. Ford sends a man named Charlie DeFeo to offer Kearns a "take-it-or-leave-it" $30 million settlement once again with no admission of theft while their court hearing is ongoing. He rejects this also, instead continuing his suit with Ford, 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).
  • Title Drop: Kearns mentions during the trial that the U.S. Supreme Court came up with the term "Flash of Genius" as the "Eureka!" Moment of how inventors come up with their inventions.
  • 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.