A Newark, New Jersey, federal judge has rejected a claim by the widow of automobile executive John DeLorean for royalties paid by Universal Pictures for appearances by the iconic DeLorean sports car in its “Back to the Future” movie trilogy.
Sally DeLorean signed over her rights to proceeds of a contract with Universal when she settled a prior lawsuit relating to licensing of the DeLorean car’s name, design and trademarks, the judge ruled.
The automaker’s widow claimed in a lawsuit filed in April that she was entitled to proceeds of a 1989 agreement her late husband signed with Universal, in which he signed over rights to feature the DeLorean automobile in movies and related merchandising. The contract promised the company would pay him 5 percent of its net receipts from merchandising and commercial tie-ups in connection with the films.
A previous suit filed by the automaker’s widow in the District of New Jersey in 2014, in which she sought to prevent licensing of the car’s name and logo by DeLorean Motor Co. of Humble, Texas, ended with a September 2015 settlement in which she released her claims in exchange for payment in an amount that was not made public. Her latest suit, filed on behalf of her late husband’s estate, sought a declaration that she retained all rights stemming from the 1989 Universal agreement, and that she did not sign over any of those rights to the Texas company.
But U.S. District Chief Judge Jose Linares of the District of New Jersey ruled Oct. 12 that the 2015 settlement encompassed the subject matter of the Universal agreement. He cited the “overlap of the clear terms in both agreements,” such as the name DeLorean Motor Co., the DMC logo and the stylized word DeLorean. Linares noted that both the settlement and the Universal agreement pertain to the use of those names and trademarks in the context of manufacturing and merchandising of products displaying the DeLorean automobile’s image and brand.
“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, the court concludes that plaintiff’s claims under the Universal agreement were incorporated in, and therefore barred by, the settlement agreement. Accordingly, plaintiff cannot state a claim for relief in connection with the Universal agreement as a matter of law, and the complaint must be dismissed,” Linares wrote.
R. Scott Thompson of Lowenstein Sandler, who represents Sally DeLorean, when asked about the ruling, said, “We’re studying the opinion. We don’t really understand some of what’s in this opinion and we are, as best as we understand the opinion, planning on appealing.”
John DeLorean was an engineer at General Motors before he founded his own company and produced the DeLorean DMC-12 from 1981-83. The car, which had gull-wing doors and stainless steel body panels, was depicted as a time machine in the 1985 movie “Back to the Future,” as well as two sequels.
The Texas-based DeLorean Motor Co. sells used DeLorean cars as well as car parts and hats, notebooks and other merchandise bearing the carmaker’s name and DMC logo. The company has also announced plans to construct new replicas of the two-seat DeLorean coupe, but the company’s website says federal Clean Air Act regulations have gotten in the way of that plan.
The lawyer for the car company, William Mead Jr. of Litchfield Cavo in Cherry Hill, did not return a call seeking comment.