Disney Can't Be Forced Into Licensing 'Star Wars' Flying Car

On Wednesday, the entertainment giant beat a lawsuit claiming it was "stalling the next evolution of human transportation on this planet."
 Walt Disney Studios

The Walt Disney Co. will no longer have to face a lawsuit over a man's ambitious plan to launch a flying car after a Delaware court held that although the idea to market a technology showcased in Star Wars might be brilliant, the plaintiff hasn't come up with a suitable legal theory to hold Disney responsible for failing to see the opportunity at its doorstep.

The lawsuit was brought by Joseph Alfred, who acted pro se, or without a lawyer. The Hollywood Reporter's usual policy is not to cover pro se litigation, but an exception has been made because according to the ruling on Wednesday, the plaintiff put together a "remarkable ... well-written and compelling" complaint.

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Alfred referenced Woody Guthrie, the Declaration of Independence, Game of Thrones, President Barack Obama, Star Trek, and Euclid’s proof of the Infinity of Primes, but Court of Chancery Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock III says the lawsuit can be boiled down to this line: "Two executives of the Disney Company are stalling the next evolution of human transportation on this planet.”

Apparently, Disney CEO Robert Iger and Disney officer Bob Chapek don't quite get the enormous potential of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Yes, the film made George Lucas a star and eventually resulted in many sequels and billions upon billions of dollars, but the two haven't realized that after acquiring Lucas' company, it now owns trademark rights to the T-65 X-wing fighter plane featured in the movie.

Alfred wants to work with a company called Terrafugia, Inc., which he believes is capable of producing a vertical take-off and landing vehicle that's also destination-programmable so that the FAA can remotely operate it. The development of the vehicle would come by soliciting Internet pledges of $10,000, entitling each investor to a ride.

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Disney comes into the picture because Alfred wants the vehicle to resemble the X-wing, to be promoted via Disney's upcoming Star Wars movie and to be publicized on Disney properties ABC and ESPN during halftime of a Florida State University football game.

Last July, he attempted to call Disney about his proposal. He alleges that he had a couple of conversations with various Disney employees.

From there, however, the plot unravels for Alfred.

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Disney, of course, wasn't very interested in the idea. The company has a policy on unsolicited proposals, though rather amusingly, Alfred appears to argue that by taking his call, Disney relaxed its policy and may have created an implied contract. From Glasscock's ruling:

"The Plaintiff, noting, I am sure, that there is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune, alleges Iger has missed the boat; he argues that, in presumably causing Disney to not take the opportunity to participate in the production of the Flying Car, which would then be available and desirable to the mass of humanity — an opportunity that, if seized would have resulted in Disney’s great financial benefit — Iger has breached fiduciary duties to the Corporation. The Plaintiff, however, does not purport to sue derivatively on behalf of the Company. Instead, the Plaintiff states that Iger has caused Disney to breach a contract with him resulting in damages."

Unfortunately for humanity, Glasscock finds no contract because there's no allegation that Disney agreed to anything. Nor can Alfred find relief under a theory of promissory estoppel, that Disney made some sort of promise that he then relied upon. More Glasscock:

"The 'promise' that Plaintiff points to is Disney’s willingness to hear his proposal. In reliance on that willingness, the Plaintiff sent Disney a slide deck to describe the promotion and licensing that he wanted from Disney. If Disney’s promise was to give the Plaintiff’s ideas an airing, despite its prior policy not to consider unsolicited proposals, they complied with that promise. The promise to hear a proposal out, however, cannot be reasonably relied upon as a promise to consummate a contract."

So even though Alfred might have come up with what Glasscock says was "such a flawless and compelling proposal that Disney could not reasonably turn it down ... for the good of the third-party manufacturer, the Plaintiff, Disney, the United States and mankind," Alfred simply can't get a judge to order Disney to license the X-wing Flying Car and have it promoted in the upcoming Star Wars film.

At least applaud the man's attempt to use the force. Here's the full ruling.

Email: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner

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