Monday, February 28, 2005

NOTABLE INVENTORS PASSING ON: Jef Raskin, a computer interface expert who conceived Apple Computer Inc.'s groundbreaking Macintosh computer but left the company before it came to market, has died. He was 61.

Raskin died Saturday night at his home in Pacifica, Calif., his family said in a statement. In December, he told friends he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Raskin joined Apple in 1978 -- as its 31st employee -- to start the young company's publications department. At the time, computers were primarily text-based and users had to remember a series of arcane commands to perform the simplest tasks.

In 1979, Raskin had a different idea: A computer that's priced affordably, targeted at consumers and extremely easy to use. A small team, under his command, was put together at Apple to pursue his concept that would eventually become the Macintosh.

Also, Robert Kearns, the inventor of intermittent windshield wipers who won multimillion-dollar judgments against Ford and Chrysler for using his idea, has died. He was 77.

Kearns died of cancer Feb. 9 at his home in suburban Baltimore, his family said. Kearns, a onetime Wayne State University professor, received numerous patents in 1967 for his design for wipers that paused between swipes, making them useful in very light rain or mist. The invention allows the driver to set the interval at which the wiper sweeps the window.

Kearns sued Ford Motor Co. in 1978 and Chrysler in 1982, claiming patent infringement.

In 1990, a jury decided that Ford infringed on Kearns' patent, though it concluded the infringement was not deliberate. Ford had contended the patent was invalid because the windshield system contained no new concepts. But Kearns argued a new combination of parts made his invention unique.

That jury failed to reach agreement on how much he should be awarded, and another jury later ordered Ford to pay Kearns $6.3 million, trimmed by a judge to $5.2 million. To settle the case, the car giant later agreed to pay $10.2 million and to drop all appeals.

Chrysler ended up being ordered to pay Kearns $18.7 million plus interest. The Supreme Court rejected Chrysler's bid to overturn the award in 1995.

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