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Don’t Ignore Intellectual Property When Planning an Estate

What does the 1980s classic movie “Back to the Future” have anything to do with estate planning? A recent lawsuit involving an icon in the famous movie is a good reminder about planning for assets you may not think about right away.

Lawsuit Involves Iconic Movie Car

The case involves a lawsuit by John DeLorean’s widow, where she alleged that a company had been illegally using the DeLorean name. For those of you not aware, the iconic grey time machine in the movie was a DeLorean car.

The company now is seeking a release that would allow them to use the DeLorean name however they want in the future.

Before his death in 2005, John DeLorean had formed and owned his auto company, which manufactured the highly sought-after yet rarely-produced vehicle, which is often recognized for its butterfly-like doors. In the lawsuit, the DeLoreans claim the company they sued had used the DeLorean name to make promotional materials, and had even licensed the name to others, without the DeLorean family’s permission. As such, the lawsuit claims the DeLoreans are owed money from the revenues derived from the use of the name.

John DeLorean’s wife likely inherited the company, as well as the trademarks and copyrights upon her husband’s death, giving her the right to enforce the intellectual property and collect revenue deriving from it.

Don’t Forget Intellectual Property

The lawsuit is a reminder that when planning how to distribute estate property, intellectual property shouldn’t be overlooked. Intellectual property is generally thought of as trademarks, patents or copyrights, but it can even extend to ideas, or revenue that derives from intellectual property. Often, a property will have dual value—for example, both the look of the car and the name DeLorean have separate value.

Intellectual property can be devised, left in a will, or be transferred to a trust, just like any tangible property.

The first step may be to make sure that your intellectual property has been protected—is it registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office? The last thing you may want is to have otherwise valuable ideas unenforceable by beneficiaries because they were never properly registered. Intellectual property attorneys should always be used for this (don’t use do-it-yourself forms or services).

Remember that intellectual property may not have value now, but may later on. Don’t assume that because you haven’t made a nickel off that idea, artwork, invention, logo, or song, that you should ignore it. It could have value years later, and thus, there should be a plan as to who owns it, controls it, manages it, or receives proceeds from it.

Good estate planning includes identifying all possible assets and making sure there’s a plan for them so nothing is overlooked. Contact Tampa business and probate attorney David Toback to discuss your needs and make sure you understand how to best ensure all your property is handled the way you want it to be.

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