Settling and valuing intellectual property assets: Things you can “learn” from celebrity couples

Settling and valuing intellectual property assets: Things you can “learn” from celebrity couples

A house, a car, and cash are some of the assets that never escape the scrutiny of divorcing spouses and family law attorneys. It seems easy to divide them, but dividing and settling them in case of a divorce is an exact science.

On the other hand, settling intangible properties — patents, trademarks, copyrights, royalties, and the like — is something else entirely. They may not be things you can hold on to, like wads of cash, a car key, or a backyard barbecue kit, but they could actually be worth much more than tangible properties.

Divorcing couples owe it to themselves to settle smartly and take notes from these celebrity couples.

Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore’s Two and a Half problem

Rumors swirled around Ashton and Demi’s relationship when they were still together like paparazzi camped outside Britney Spears’ mansion in 2007. This wasn’t unusual since they were a high-profile celebrity couple.

The rumors had a lot to do with how their assets were going to be divided in case they split. This was particularly interesting to tabloids and divorce lawyers partly because of their age gap (Ashton was 34 and Demi was 51 when their divorce was finalized) and mostly because of Ashton’s alleged affair.

Although financial wrangling is not unusual between celebrity couples, theirs was particularly riveting due to the number of intellectual property assets involved. After all, Ashton and Demi both amassed creative projects between them throughout their six-year marriage.

When they eventually separated and filed for divorce, it was revealed that Demi wanted a slice of Ashton’s riches despite having several millions more than him. She demanded spousal support from Ashton who, at the time of their divorce, was about to make around $800,000 per episode on Two and a Half Men.

Unfortunately for Demi, Ashton got attached to these projects after they split, which meant she had a slim chance of succeeding. Maybe she hoped the judges would commiserate and argued that Ashton was a crappy husband, a cheat, and a punk.

Spinoff or sequel?

If there’s any silver lining to Ashton and Demi’s case, it’s that it didn’t take more than a decade to finalize their divorce, unlike fellow Hollywood royalty Michael Douglas and his ex-wife Diandra Luker. The Douglases’ separation dragged on for 14 years due to — among other things — the film Wall Street and its sequel/spinoff, which both starred Mr. Douglas.

When Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (the follow-up to Wall Street) was released in 2010, it earned decently at the box office. Diandra, with whom Michael was already separated for 13 years, filed suit upon the film’s release because she claimed that she was owed some of that Wall Street Part Two money.

According to their divorce settlement, she was entitled to half of Michael’s earnings from his acting projects over the course of their marriage and half of the earnings from his movie spinoffs (not to be confused with sequels). Anyone who’d seen both films (their lawyers and the presiding judges certainly did) can make the case that the second Gordon Gekko flick was a sequel. But nothing is ever simple, where millions of dollars are concerned.

In any case, could you imagine making such a claim against an ex-spouse? You probably couldn’t, unless you plan on marrying the likes of Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, or anyone in Hollywood with checkered romantic histories and several sequels, spinoffs, and reboots under their name.

Instead of finding out whether Michael ended up paying his ex-wife half of his Wall Street earnings, it’s more interesting to ponder that this may well be the reason why Michael’s characters in film and TV never got their own spinoffs. No, his roles in any of the Marvel films do not count.

Not quite divorced: The Osbournes

Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne don’t seem to be having much trouble staying married. But in case they do, they’d have tons of intellectual property assets to settle.

In 2016, Sharon opened up about their marital struggles, which had plenty to do with Ozzy’s alleged affairs. According to her, Ozzy is putty in the presence of women who are providing a service — whether it’s a masseuse, the family cook, or her hairdresser.

Like any normal wife, knowledge of her husband’s dalliances displeased her and gave her reason to kick him out of their LA mansion. But unlike most wives, she managed to stay married to the Black Sabbath frontman.

Arguably, Sharon was avoiding the headaches of having to settle their combined intellectual property assets. God help them and their lawyers who would have to divide Ozzy’s intellectual properties consisting of his Black Sabbath and solo-artist discographies, and Sharon’s own intellectual property assets consisting of copyrights and royalties from her books, TV appearances, and other creative endeavors.

In Washington state and other community property states, intangible assets acquired during the marriage must be equitably divided upon a divorce. Since the Osbournes have been married for a long time, settling their properties will be a nightmare.

Determining intellectual properties like copyrights, patents, or earnings from a movie sequel/spinoff must be handled by actual experts. That would be people like us, Seattle family law attorneys Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams