DeLorean Motor Company And NBCUniversal Settle Lawsuit Over “Back To The Future” Car

On Tuesday, March 26, 2024, DeLorean Motor Company and NBCUniversal Media settled a trademark lawsuit concerning the licensing of the DeLorean trademark for use in merchandising connected to the “Back to the Future” films.

The DeLorean sports car was produced by John Z. DeLorean and the DeLorean Motor Company in the early 1980s. The car was used as the time machine in the popular “Back to the Future” films and thereafter became well-known to the public. In 1982, the DeLorean Motor Company declared bankruptcy and a holding company acquired the DeLorean Motor Company’s inventory and intellectual property.

Universal Studios, also known as Universal Pictures, entered into an agreement with John DeLorean in 1989 whereby Universal Studios was permitted to use the name and appearance of the car “for use in ‘merchandising and commercial tie-ups'” related to the “Back to the Future” films. Universal Studios agreed to pay John DeLorean “five percent (5%) of its net receipts from the sale of merchandise and commercial tie-ups (comprising both goods and services) in connection to the Back to the Future Films.”

In 1997, the holding company that acquired the DeLorean Motor Company’s inventory and intellectual property filed for bankruptcy. A new company located in Texas, DeLorean Motor Company (not to be confused with the original DeLorean Motor Company) purchased the holding company’s intellectual property along with the holding company’s entire stock of cars, parts, inventory, and other items used in the original factory. The Texas based company supplies parts and services to owners of DeLorean cars. After a couple lawsuits brought by John DeLorean’s surviving wife, Sally DeLorean, in 2014 and 2018, the new DeLorean Motor Company “remains the sole owner of the. . . DeLorean intellectual property and registered trademarks and trade dress.”

In 2004, Universal Studios merged with NBC, creating NBCUniversal. The DeLorean Motor Company alleged that NBCUniversal used its trademark and other intellectual property “in the form of toys, on posters, in videogames, on t-shirts, on lunchboxes, and in other products sold and/or licensed to third parties by NBCUniversal.” The company alleged that NBCUniversal “failed to fully pay DMC for such uses per the 1989 agreement. NBCUniversal has not fully paid DMC five percent (5%) of NBCUniversal’s net receipts from merchandising and commercial tie-ups as agreed.”

DeLorean Motor Company filed a lawsuit alleging breach of contract, accounting, and trademark and trade dress infringement against NBCUniversal on December 22, 2022, in the U.S. District Court, Central District of California. Although the terms of the settlement remain confidential, attorney Roger Behle, representing DeLorean Motor Company, stated that “you will continue to see DeLorean cars and trademarks featured in Back to the Future merchandise in the future.”

Additional Reading

NBCUniversal settles ‘Back to the Future’ DeLorean trademark case, Reuters (March 27, 2024)

DeLorean Motor Company v. NBCUniversal Media LLC et al (Case No. 8:2022cv02189)

Complaint in DeLorean Motor Company v. NBCUniversal Media LLC et al

Photo Credit: Grzegorz Czapski /