Lawsuit to Continue Over “Back To The Future” Delorean Car

Lawsuit to Continue Over “Back To The Future” Delorean Car

 

On February 22, 2024, District Court Judge David O. Carter partially rejected NBCUniversal’s (“NBCU”) motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit filed by DeLorean Motor Co. (“DMC”). This ruling dismisses NBCU’s claim that the DeLorean car company lacks a valid trademark infringement claim.

This lawsuit arose from a disagreement between the two parties regarding royalty payments for the utilization of the DeLorean DMC-12 sports car in “Back to the Future” merchandise. The dispute originates from a 1989 agreement between NBCU and John DeLorean, granting the film studio rights to the name, logo, and likeness of the DeLorean car for merchandise purposes following the release of the 1985 film “Back to the Future.”

Under this agreement, NBCU was required to pay DeLorean a portion of revenues whenever the name, logo, or likeness of the DeLorean car played a significant role in an item of merchandise or a commercial partnership. Revenue refers to the total earnings generated from the sale of goods or services.

This lawsuit between DMC and NBCU follows a long disagreement involving DMC, NBCU, and John DeLorean’s estate over who should get these payments established in the 1989 agreement.

In the beginning, John DeLorean’s company only made the car seen in the movie before going bankrupt in 1982. Afterwards, a liquidation company bought the company assets, including leftover cars. Then, Marvin Katz bought all of these assets.

In 1995, DMC was created to fix and sell these old cars and in 1997, DMC bought the old company’s assets from Katz, which DMC claimed included trade names, distribution rights, and other intangible assets, like patents or copyrights.

After John DeLorean died in 2005, his estate sued DMC in 2014, saying DMC was using rights it shouldn’t. Both parties settled in 2015, with the estate acknowledging that DMC had trademark rights. DMC then used this settlement to inform NBCU they should pay revenues to them under the old agreement. NBCU agreed and started paying.

But in 2018, the DeLorean estate said their agreement didn’t give DMC the right to these payments from the 1989 agreement. When this came up in a Court, it was decided that the estate could not go after these payments, so NBCU started paying DMC again.

Even though NBCU started paying DMC again, in October 2022, DMC filed a new lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court questioning whether they were getting the right amount of money. NBCU responded by moving the case to a federal court in California and then asking for a quick decision as to who owned what rights with a motion for summary judgement.

When Judge Carter looked at NBCU’s request, he agreed with part of it, saying that DMC can’t claim breach of contract or ask for an account of the money because they weren’t involved in the 1989 agreement and there’s no proof it was passed on to them when they obtained their other rights from DeLorean. However, the Judge did not agree with NBCU about a claim of trademark infringement, so this surviving claim will be at the center of the case moving forward.

DeLorean is represented by Roger N. Behle Jr., Jordan A. Liebman and Luis A. Saenz of Foley Bezek Behle & Curtis LLP.

NBCUniversal is represented by Andrew J. Thomas, Todd C. Toral, Lauren M. Greene and Rachael A. Goldman of Jenner & Block LLP.

The case is DeLorean Motor Co. v. NBCUniversal Media LLC et al., case number 8:22-cv-02189, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

* Lowe & Associates (“The Firm”) is a boutique entertainment and business law firm located in Beverly Hills, California. The firm has extensive experience handling cases involving copyright law, having provided top-quality legal services to its clients since 1991. The Firm is recognized for its many achievements, including successfully litigating many high-profile cases.

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