'Back to the Future' Car Lawsuit Settled

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on October 21, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The DeLorean estate settled a lawsuit over use of its name just in time for Back to the Future Day, or October 21, 2015. The DeLorean car was made famous by Michael J. Fox playing Marty McFly in the Back to the Future movies.

The car creator's widow sued the DeLorean Motor Company (DMC) -- not legally associated with the original vehicle -- for illegally using the DeLorean name to sell hats, pens, notebooks, key chains and other items of far less value than the famous winged car. The lawsuit also claimed that DMC illegally licensed the name and images to other companies including Nike, Urban Outfitters, and Apple.

The Business of Business

All parties have expressed relief over the settlement, which pays Sally DeLorean, widow of car creator John DeLorean, an undisclosed sum. The company will retain the rights to use the DeLorean Motor Company name, trademarks and logo. The estate, however, will retain all rights to John DeLorean's name, as well as aspects of his personal life and depictions of his likeness that are not public property or purchased from legitimate rights holders.

DMC Vice President James Espey told the Associated Press that the company is happy to have the issues sorted, "so there's no question what our rights are." He added, "This allows us to get back to the business of doing business."

The DeLorean estate would not comment on settlement specifics but also expressed satisfaction with the outcome. According to counsel for Sally DeLorean, R. Scott Thomson, his client "is especially pleased that she and her daughter will be in a position to protect all aspects of John's legacy going forward."

Back to the Future Again

John DeLorean died in New Jersey in 2005. He was 80 years old. DeLorean began working in the car manufacturing industry for General Motors. On October 24, 1975, he formed his own company, which made only one model, the now-famous DMC-12 featured in the Back to the Future movies.

The 12 in DMC-12 was originally supposed to suggest the car's price, but no DMC-12 ever sold for so little. The first cars off the lot went for about $25,000.

The iconic DeLorean was well known for its gull wing openings and its sleek design but very few such cars were made. The company went bankrupt in 1982.

In 1995, a British mechanic started his own DeLorean Motor Company, or the DMC associated with this suit. DMC supports DeLorean car owners but it is not associated with the original company. Now, nearly 40 years to the day that John DeLorean started the original car company, this settlement establishes that fact at long last.

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