The Great Patent Kerfluffle

As the GPD contract was exceedingly brief as far as multimillion dollar agreements go, there were undoubtedly a lot of grey areas. One of which was, "When a Lotus employee makes an innovation while working on a car for DMC, to whom does the patentable innovation belong? The employee? DMC? Lotus?"

The record I am working with is incomplete, and I am left to speculate as to how this issue was settled, but we have some clues. First of all, JZD liked to brag about the "hundreds" of automobile patents he held. I remember researching this claim briefly as a younger man and came up with the general conclusion that patents and innovations from JZD would have necessarily belonged to his then employer, GM. I'd defer to a real patent attorney to confirm that, but it seems reasonable to conclude that if you are getting paid to work for someone, you are not going to wholly own that which you developed on their dime and on their time.

So, in 1980 when Lotus employee Colin Spooner filed a patent application in the UK over a way to anchor seatbelts to the GRP underbody on behalf of himself and Lotus, and JZD found out about it, there was some 'splainin to do. The fact that lawyers on both sides of the Atlantic were quick to get involved and quash this effort may mean that JZD snapped his fingers three times, swayed his head from side to side and exclaimed, "OH NO HE DIT INT!" (JZD apparently rode the Green Line.*)

So what's the big deal? Why would this be so important? I don't know how the seat belt is anchored to the Delorean underbody, but it doesn't seem that it would be an earth-shattering innovation. My guess is that there would be less concern about the massive technology gain that would be coveted by other auto manufacturerers chomping at the bit to secure seatbelts in cheap plastic cars, and more about DMC being forced to pay Lotus royalties in the future. And if JZD did not own patents while he worked for GM, he would have been damned to let Colin Spooner own them while working for DMC.

On the fifth page below, item 5, we see that JZD was going to meet Colin Spooner in person, papers in hand, and bring about a satisfactory end to the issue once and for all.

*Only people that live in Washington, DC will get this joke.

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