In the movie "Flash of Genius," which covered the law suit involving intermittent automobile windshield wipers, it seemed that the individual parts (wipers, control box, electrical components) were already available, but what was done with the wipers was not done previously. In the rulings for the claimant engineer (he was finally awarded something like $18m from Ford and $30m from Chrysler), what met the requirement for being:

  1. Beyond prior art?
  2. More than an obvious extension of knowledge possessed by the ordinary person skilled in that discipline?
  3. More than an extension of known engineering techniques?

For beyond prior art, is it enough to show that prior art didn't exist? Wouldn't that be difficult in terms of proprietary (non-public) trade secrets held by claimants? A defendant auto company could build a similar device or control box "over the weekend," and over the >10-year case, multiple designs could actually have been manufactured. (that's what actually happened, since the claimant was a contractor to Ford, and he noticed "his" intermittent wipers appeared on a newly manufactured car).

Why were intermittent wipers considered more than an obvious extension of knowledge of an ordinary engineer in automobile manufacturing? I think introducing intermittency control for wipers is an obvious extension of knowledge by an automobile engineer, but maybe it was not obvious because it was not thought of by another engineer.

Lastly, how could intermittent wipers be considered to be more than an "extension" of known engineering techniques? Maybe it was enough to show that the technique for intermittent design was not a known technique.

Something leads me to believe that there was an element of "first to file" in this suit, but that didn't exist by USPTO in the 60's/70's. In the first answer to this OP, it is stated that an examiner only needs to argue that an ordinary person in the field could eventually come up with the invention using individual components. Given this, and given the fact that automobile manufacturers would eventually develop and manufacture intermittent wipers, why was the ruling for the claimant? (I don't know if it was patent infringement and/or damages related to lost financial opportunities).


The bar for novelty, innovation and inventiveness is not as high as you seem to think

A process is novel or innovative or inventive unless it is not novel or innovative or inventive when compared to prior art where that prior art is:

  • a single document,
  • 2 or more related documents,
  • a single specification.

While there was prior are for windscreen wipers and prior art for interrupting things (interruption gear for WW1 aircraft machine guns spring to mind) these were not combined in a single document or set of related documents.

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