DeLorean Motor sues NBCU over ‘Back to the Future’ royalties

The DeLorean, the time travel vehicle that Michael J. Fox’s character Marty McFly drove to the future (and the past) in Back to the Future, was one of the most famous cars in film history.

Now – almost four decades later – the iconic symbol of 1980s Hollywood is in the middle of a legal battle.

The Texas-based owner of the DeLorean auto brand is suing NBCUniversal, claiming it failed to pay the royalties it owed.

In a lawsuit in federal court filed in Los Angeles this week, DeLorean Motor Co. said it acquired intellectual property and trademarks for the DeLorean in 1997 and that NBCUniversal is in breach of its contract.

The company claims it is entitled to 5% of the revenue from merchandising and commercial connections related to the films as part of a deal the creator of the futuristic car made with NBCUniversal.

NBCUniversal, owner of the Universal Pictures film studio, has denied the allegations. An NBC spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

“Despite NBCUniversal’s continued use of the license originally granted to Universal Studios, and although NBCUniversal has continued to pay some royalties, NBCUniversal has failed to fully pay DMC for such use under the 1989 Agreement,” the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit does not specify how much money is involved.

“DMC has requested that NBCUniversal provide an accurate accounting of the monies owed to DMC, but NBCUniversal has delayed, deflected and denied those requests. NBCUniversal has also declined to disclose the extent of its use of the license granted to it.”

The case underscores the long history of the DeLorean legacy and its value to the popular film franchise. The DeLorean Motor Company is not affiliated with the estate of inventor John DeLorean. But it acquired assets after the manufacturer’s collapse.

American engineer and inventor John Z. DeLorean founded his car company in 1975 and built only one car, the DeLorean, which was manufactured and marketed in the early 1980s. Its brushed steel exterior and the so-called gullwing doors that open upwards made it an eye-catcher. The car was featured in the 1985 hit Back to the Future and its spin-offs, as well as Park Drives.

DeLorean’s company failed and filed for bankruptcy in 1982. Another company acquired the inventory and intellectual property. That holding company later sold those assets to Texas-based group DMC, which acquired the entire inventory of cars, parts, publications, and rights and trademarks, according to the court filings.

The DeLorean Motor Company said it had litigated and settled legal disputes over ownership of the rights with DeLorean’s surviving wife. The DeLorean Estate was said to have recognized DMC’s ownership of the DeLorean car brand.

In 1989, John DeLorean and Universal Studios had struck a deal whereby the car would be used for merch and commercials related to the films in exchange for 5% of the earnings from those mergers, the DeLorean Motor Co. said in its complaint.

There was also a battle between the DeLorean Estate and DMC in federal court in New Jersey over who should receive royalties from Universal. DMC won a motion to dismiss the estate’s lawsuit, it said.

From toys and posters to lunch boxes, the company said NBCUniversal uses the car to promote its products. It has been featured in other films, such as Ready Player One, but without DMC’s approval, sources said.

DMC is seeking damages to be determined in court, it said. DeLorean Motor sues NBCU over ‘Back to the Future’ royalties

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