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Back to the Future- Or, Back to the Courthouse

In a blast from the past and a shout out to movie buffs everywhere, the widow of John DeLorean is in litigation against a company from Texas associated with her husband’s legendary car famously featured in the Back to the Future films.  According to Sally DeLorean, DeLorean Motor Company in Texas has exploited the car’s trademark and image of its builder, her husband.  He began his career working for General Motors in the 1960s and 1970s and eventually became so popular as a carmaker that he starred in a whiskey ad in Playboy magazine in 1981.  His iconic car model only had 9,000 finished copies but was such a craze that it landed a role in pop culture history in film.

Her claim stems from how the company used the famous car in its sales model.  The logo has been used on items such as key chains, t-shirts, and hats, and also sold to Nike for a shoe design.  Talks with Microsoft, Apple and Urban Outfitters were underway, but have stalled since the suit came about in late February.  Plaintiff alleges that the way in which the logo and iconic brand has been taken advantage of is completely different than its original intended purpose and diminishes John DeLorean’s name.

The official case, DeLorean as Administratix v. DeLorean Motor Company, would call for restraint of the use of the logo and name of the car brand if proven successful by Sally DeLorean.  The company did admit before John DeLorean’s death that it had no ownership over any intellectual property related to the carmaker or his masterpiece.  Therefore, it seems reasonable for his widowed wife to file suit despite that the Texas company successfully trademarked the name and logo itself.  Interestingly enough, Sally DeLorean has successfully sued other companies for similar matters in the past.  While seemingly a stretch at first considering it has been almost nine years since her husband’s death, the history of successful litigation suggests she has the upper hand in the matter.  In defense of their commercial use of the name and brand, the Texas company claims that it should be commended for the way in which it has kept John DeLorean’s legacy alive and well.  According to the company, it has only taken advantage of his success as a carmaker and continued to advance his name in its business endeavors.  This case is sure to be followed by car fanatics, movie buffs and Gen Xers alike.

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