Robert W. Kearns, the Gaithersburg windshield wiper inventor who was awarded $5.2 million two weeks ago in a patent infringement lawsuit, is in Montgomery County jail serving a 120-day sentence for nonpayment of alimony, refusing to vacate his house and failing to share award proceeds with his ex-wife.
Circuit Court Judge J. James McKenna ordered Kearns to begin serving the sentence Friday after a contempt hearing that day on Kearns's refusal to comply with the terms of a 1989 divorce decree, according to court records and a Rockville lawyer.
Kearns, 63, could be released from the Rockville jail before the 120-day period ends if he meets all of the conditions mandated by McKenna. According to court records, Kearns must pay $700 in back alimony for June and July and remove his belongings by Aug. 15 from his Gaithersburg house. A buyer is ready to settle on the Lookout Place property once Kearns vacates it, court records show.
McKenna also ordered Kearns, who has listed the Omni International Hotel in Detroit as a temporary address in court records, to designate his former wife, Phyllis Kearns, as the primary beneficiary of his life insurance policies, said William Paton, a Rockville lawyer familiar with the lawsuit.
Paton said McKenna also directed Kearns to establish "some sort of financial mechanism" for Phyllis Kearns to receive 10 percent of the award from his patent ligitation.
Kearns and his wife filed for a divorce on April 9, 1986, in Montgomery County Circuit Court, and the case was in litigation for years. A revised final divorce order was issued in May 1989 by Judge Peter J. Messitte.
Earlier this month, Kearns, on his own, filed an appeal to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals contesting McKenna's order to vacate the Gaithersburg house, court records show.
A federal court in Detroit ordered Ford Motor Co. on July 13 to pay Kearns $5.2 million in royalties for his patent for intermittent windshield wipers. Kearns, who once was offered $30 million to settle the Ford lawsuit, has similar patent infringement suits pending against General Motors Corp., Chrysler Corp., Daimler-Benz AG, Honda Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co. and 24 other car manufacturers.