February 09, 2015

DeLorean Flies into the Future with a Trademark Infringement Lawsuit

In "Back to the Future II," Marty McFly uses his fancy flying time machine to travel to the future. Ironically, he travels to 2015, a time filled with skateboards that fly, automated dog-walkers, and self-drying jackets. While we don't currently have flying skateboards, automated dog-walkers, and self-drying jackets, 2015 does have one thing relating to "Back to the Future": a trademark infringement lawsuit. Woah. This is heavy.

The widow of John DeLorean, the maker of the arguably infamous car that transported McFly in Back to the Future, filed a lawsuit in federal court against DeLorean Motor Company, claiming that DeLorean Motor Company has been using without authorization the DeLorean mark to sell hats, pens, notebooks, key chains and other items. It does appear that DeLorean has been selling items under the mark DeLorean. Check out this fancy keychain:

Delorean Keychain

The question is whether DeLorean Motor Company has a right to use the DeLorean name to sell these goods. As alleged in the complaint, the company has never been formally affiliated with the one DeLorean started. The complaint also alleges that DeLorean Motor Company has illegally licensed the DeLorean name and other related images to third parties including Nike, Mattel, Urban Outfitters and Apple. According to the complaint, DeLorean Motor Company "has improperly and illegally appropriated for its own use Mr. DeLorean's legacy, including the DeLorean Identity, together with intellectual property."

Also at issue are DeLorean Motor Company's alleged plans to manufacture an electric version of the car. DeLorean's widow claims the manufacture of such a car would be illegal because the car's design belongs to John DeLorean's estate. John DeLorean's automobile company produced about 9,000 cars before it went bankrupt in the early 1980s; as you can probably guess, this car is the shapeship-looking car in the "Back To The Future" films. DeLorean Motor Company has, of course, denied all claims in the lawsuit and has that it has a right to use the marks at issue. Discovery is currently stayed pending settlement discussions.

You might be wondering how and why Mrs. DeLorean is claiming rights to the trademark DELOREAN. When John DeLorean's automobile company went through bankruptcy, Mr. DeLorean allegedly purchased his company's intellectual property from the company during the proceeding. According to the complaint, in 2004, Mr. DeLorean gave the owners of DeLorean Motor Company permission to make a small modification to the car's user manual, and in this deal, they acknowledged that Mr. DeLorean owned the intellectual property pertaining to the automobiles. What's interesting is that DeLorean Motor Company has registered trademarks for DELOREAN for use in connection with automobiles and clothing, among other things.

Can you believe that it's been thirty years since Back to the Future was released? Time flies, doesn't it? Little did he know that when 2015 finally rolled around, the car used in the movie would be in the middle of a legal battle pitting a Texas company against the widow of maverick automaker John DeLorean. Synchronize your watches and keep an eye on this trademark battle. In the meantime, check out this clip of Back to the Future, when the DeLorean is introduced for the first time:

The lawyers at Trademarkology provide trademark registration services backed by the experience and service of one of the nation's oldest law firms. Click here to contact us.