Few cars are as synonymous with a movie as the DeLorean DMC-12 is with the Back to the Future franchise. After all, as Doc Brown said, “If you’re going to build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?!” Perhaps because the DeLorean Motor Company flamed out so quickly and famously, the DMC-12 has remained one of the most iconic automobiles in history, along with its flux capacitor and 1.21 gigawatts of power needed for time travel.
But who owns the rights to that iconic image? The matter seemed to be resolved in 2015, when John DeLorean’s widow Sally signed settlements with the current iteration of the DeLorean Motor Company and Universal Studios divvying up the rights and royalties to the company name and the car itself. Sally DeLorean sued DMC this year, however, claiming the company underpaid royalties owed to her, but a judge has dismissed that suit, citing the earlier settlement. Here are the details.
Past and Present
Under the 2015 settlement, DeLorean retained the right to her husband’s name and life story, DMC was granted the right to use the DeLorean name and a stylized logo for production purposes, and Universal was allowed to use the brand and logo in connection with merchandising and commercial tie-ups to the Back to the Future movies. DeLorean claimed however, that she never agreed to allow DMC use of the logo in partnership with Universal, and was therefore owed additional royalties.
U.S. District Judge Jose Linares in New Jersey dismissed her lawsuit last week, saying the settlement precluded any new royalty claims. “Considering both agreements pertained to the merchandising of similar items associated with the DeLorean automobile’s image, brand, and related trademarks, as contemplated by the 2014 action and the clear language of the agreements,” Linares wrote, “the court concludes that plaintiff’s claims under the Universal agreement were incorporated in, and therefore barred by, the settlement agreement.”
Like Doc Brown’s altered model in 1985, Linares’s ruling sent DeLorean back in time, if only a few years.
While the Back to the Future movies need no resuscitation, DMC (after originally declaring bankruptcy in 1982) has been hovering in and out of business for about a decade, intermittently producing DMC-12’s from new, original, and reproduction parts. As of now, DMC is pointing to the future (January 2019) to relaunch production of the DMC-12.