17 October 2018Trademarks

Judge dismisses royalties request over ‘Back to the Future’ time machine

The widow of the inventor behind the car-turned-time-machine in sci-fi classic “ Back to the Future” has been barred from recovering merchandising royalties from Universal Pictures.

Chief District Judge Jose Linares delivered his opinion at the US District Court for the District of New Jersey on Friday, October 12.

John DeLorean, who passed away in 2005, was responsible for inventing the famous DeLorean DMC-12 car.

He entered into an agreement with film studio Universal in 1989 whereby the studio would pay the inventor a royalty in exchange for permission to use DMC-12 imagery in connection with “Back to the Future”.

In 2014, Sally DeLorean, the widow of the inventor and the administrator of his estate, accused Texas-based DeLorean Motor Company—which her husband had co-founded—of illegally profiting from the sale of merchandise featuring DMC-12 branding.

According to Court House News, the parties settled their dispute. DeLorean retained the right to her husband’s name and life story under the agreement, but DeLorean Motor Company kept the right to use the DeLorean name and logo.

The inventor’s widow entered into a similar agreement with Universal, granting the film studio the right to use the DeLorean brand and logo for merchandising related to “Back to the Future”.

However, in April 2018, DeLorean filed a complaint alleging that the auto company had illegally received royalty payments from Universal.

She alleged that the company had falsely informed Universal that it owned the rights to the DMC-12 branding, resulting in the studio making a “substantial payment” to DeLorean Motor Company.

However, DeLorean said that her husband’s rights under his 1989 agreement with Universal had not been transferred to the auto company.

She claimed that DeLorean Motor Company had been given the right to use a “limited set of IP”, but that she had not transferred any contractual rights in relation to the auto company in their settlement agreement.

In response, the auto company asked the court to dismiss the complaint and enforce the settlement agreement.

On Friday, Linares sided with the auto company.

He determined that DeLorean Motor Company’s use of the DMC-12 imagery, branding, and related trademarks was stipulated in “clear language” of the earlier settlement agreement, while DeLorean’s claim that she is owed money by Universal is barred by such a contract.

The materials licensed to DeLorean Motor Company were included in the inventor’s 1989 agreement with Universal, preventing DeLorean from asserting a claim under that agreement, Linares explained.

Linares dismissed DeLorean’s complaint and granted the auto company’s motion to enforce the settlement agreement.

However, he denied the auto company’s request to recover attorneys’ fees, as DeLorean Motor Company had failed to supply any documents to support the request.

The auto company is able to renew the request at a later date, “if appropriate and in compliance” with the relevant regulations, Linares said.

Earlier this year, DeLorean Motor Company accused vegan makeup brand Elysian Cosmetics and its founders of trademark infringement following use of the ‘DeLorean’ mark.

The dispute concluded in May after the parties reached a settlement, which reportedly involved Elysian agreeing to stop using the ‘DeLorean’ mark.

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More on this story

20 February 2018   The manufacturer of the car that was turned into a time machine in sci-fi classic “Back to the Future” is primed to pursue a trademark infringement claim against a luxury makeup brand.
4 May 2018   A trademark dispute between a cosmetics brand and DeLorean Motor Company, the manufacturer of the car-turned-time-machine in sci-fi classic “Back to the Future”, has been dismissed.