LOS ANGELES -- An inventor won a $21 million jury award Tuesday in his suit claiming Kawasaki stole his invention of the jet ski.
Clayton Jacobson, owner of Jacobson Engineering of Parker, Ariz., won the award in U.S. District Court against Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. , of Japan and two of its American subsidiaries.
The jury awarded Jacobson $7.5 million in compensatory damages and $13.5 million in punitive damages.
'Well, things could be a lot worse,' Jacobson said. 'We were asking for a little more than that.'
He said he had been seeking $30 million to $60 million based on a fair royalty rate for Kawasaki's use of his invention.
Jacobson claimed Kawasaki improperly obtained patents on his technology in Japan, naming its own employees as the inventors, and publicly claimed to be 'the inventor of the jet ski' in its advertising.
In an unusual legal maneuver, Jacobson sued Kawasaki for libel, saying the patents in Japan and the advertising libeled his title to the invention.
Jacobson said he conceived the idea of a personal watercraft in the early 1960s while working at Southwest Savings and other family-owned financial institutions.
'The jet ski came about because I needed stress relief,' he said. The machine evolved into its present form around 1970, he said.
In a prepared statement, Jacobson said he was 'finally receiving the recognition as the inventor of the jet ski and as the creator of an entirely new recreational activity enjoyed by millions of people throughout the world.'
Kawasaki officials could immediately be reached for comment.
The jet ski resembles a snowmobile and is ridden by one person standing up and steering by means of handlebars.
'I think it was a satisfactory result in that we finally settled who was the inventor of the jet ski,' said Jacobson's lawyer, Rodney Soda.
Soda said Kawasaki can continue to manufacture jet skis, but cannot claim inventorship. He said the judge would have to resolve some remaining issues, such as royalties on future sales.
Jacobson, who also invented a sit-down model, such as the Ski-Doo manufactured by Bombardier of Canada, said he had licensed his invention of the jet ski to Yamaha. He said Kawasaki had forced Yamaha to move its manufacturing to the United States and forced the company to pay royalties on the machines exported back to Japan.
Jacobson said up to 70 percent of the traffic on the Colorado River now consists of personal watercraft, and that his invention has resulted in a dramatic reduction in deaths and injuries nationwide because the small craft are propelled by a stream of water rather than traditional boat motors with metal propellers.
'You do it in a safer, saner way,' he said.