FATE BEING WHAT it too often is, an appeals court may reverse the Chicago decision, or Sears may turn out to be clean as a whistle, or Mr. Roberts may turn out to be more of a crank than a wrenchmaker, or worse. But for the glorious moment, raise a glass to Peter M. Roberts, and to justice, too - the justice in question being Judge George N. Leighton, who on Thursday ruled that Sears, Roebuck and Co. had cheated Mr. Roberts out of his quick-release, one handed socket wrench, which was a poor thing, but his own. "It shows how a small man can receive justice even against an enormous corporation if right is on his side," said Mr. Roberts. Amen. And unless an especially cruel fate does rear its head, Mr. Roberts - now the proprietor of a delicatessen in Chattanooga (yes) - will be awarded $60 million (yes again), the approximate amount Sears has earned since 1961 from the tool that they told Mr. Roberts - then 18 years old - was not new and "would not sell very well."
What makes this story all the more delectable is that the depth of the chicanery involved could only have been equaled by the height of the retribution. Not only did Sears persuade young Mr. Roberts to assign them his patent rights in exchange for $10,000; they also hired Mr. Roberts' own lawyer - clearly a character Dickens would have recognized immediately - after that lawyer had advised Sears that a patent was about to be issued, before he told Mr. Roberts. Not since Walter Hunt sold his patent rights to the safety pin for $400 in the 1850s has an American genius been so underpaid. But now the wrench has turned, and mr. Roberts may dream of plenty as he strolls among the salamis.
The grim joke of all this is that Sears probably could have swindled Mr. Roberts legally, in the way of all big corporations. They could have hired him for life at a comfortable salary, taken his patent within the corporation, established a monopoly, and that would have been that. Instead, they opted for the out-and-out lie, and so, thanks to the grinding mills, have inadvertently restored to the American scene the success of the lone inventor - a figure who went out with Edison and Bell. Here's to you, Mr. Roberts. You brought back the old dream; you knocked off the villains; you made yourself rich. Only in America.