DeLorean Wants to Cash in Those ‘Back to the Future’ Royalties

Automaker DeLorean Motor Co claims it’s owned five percent of the revenue from sales of merchandise and other Back to the Future-branded products.

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Doc, are you telling me that you built a time machine, out of a DeLorean?
Gif: Universal Pictures (Fair Use)

When you hear anyone talk about the DeLorean, what’s the first thing that pops into your mind? Is it the stainless steel sports car that’s straight out the 1970s, the struggling automaker’s attempts to set up a factory in Ireland, or hit movie Back to the Future? For me, it’s always going to be the last on the list.

Well now, it seems like the DeLorean Motor Co (DMC) wants to cash in its royalties from appearing in the 1985 movie, and its two sequels, as it’s suing NBCUniversal. According to the Los Angeles Times, the owner of the DeLorean car trademark is suing the movie studio for the royalties it thinks it’s owed. The LA Times reports:

“In a federal court lawsuit filed in Los Angeles this week, the 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 alleges that — under a deal that the creator of the futuristic car struck with NBCUniversal — it has a right to 5% of the revenue from merchandising and commercial tie-ups connected to the films.”

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Despite asking for five percent of the movie’s takings for merchandise and other deals over the past 37 year, the lawsuit doesn’t actually put a figure on how much the company thinks it’s owned.

So far, NBCUniversal has not commented on the matter.

A photo of a DeLorean sports car on a red carpet.
If you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?
Photo: Eamonn M. McCormack (Getty Images)
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According to the LA Times, the creator of the DeLorean, John DeLorean, struck a deal with Universal in 1989 for the car to be used in movie merch in exchange for five percent of the revenue from those tie-ups.

However, once the original company that built the DeLorean went out of business in the early 1980s, its intellectual properties were acquired by another firm. This holding company then sold them, along with the entire stock of cars, parts, publications as well as rights and trademarks, to DMC.

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As such, DMC now believes it’s owned the five percent that DeLorean originally agreed to.

In a separate legal battle, DMC argued against the Delorean estate over who should receive royalty payments from Universal for its use of the car in movies and merchandise. This case, the LA Times reports, was won by DMC.