If O'Brien, following his expected departure from NBC this year, creates a new show on another network, it's unclear whether he'll be able to bring some of his best-known bits and characters, such as Triumph the Insult Comic and the Masturbating Bear, among others, with him.
The characters and sketches, according to The Hollywood Reporter, are intellectual property that belongs to NBC, and the network doesn't plan to give them up.
But history may be on O'Brien's side. NBC threatened legal action against David Letterman after the late-night TV veteran moved to CBS in 1993 and began using characters and sketches from his old NBC show. Letterman eventually dropped some of his staples and changed the names of others, according to The Hollywood Reporter, but his classic "Top 10 List" survived.
"It was a wash," New Yorker media critic Ken Auletta told ABCNews.com. "At some point, you make a decision [and say] 'I've got to cut my losses here and make this go away,' and that's what happened to Letterman. NBC finally said 'Make this go away … it doesn't help us.'"
Still, even if he keeps his bits, O'Brien faces other obstacles, said Washington Post media columnist Howard Kurtz.
"Conan will probably be able to take his entire act to Fox or some other television outlet. But if he was getting creamed by Letterman (and 'Nightline') at 11:30, how's he going to compete against both programs AND Jay Leno?" Kurtz wrote in an e-mail to ABCNews.com.
Fox has been O'Brien's most vocal potential suitor. Last week, Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly told reporters that he loves "Conan personally and professionally" and said that Fox has had "informal conversations, mostly commiserating about the situation" with Conan's team.
But "beyond that," he added, "we're not free to talk about any business negotiation or proposition that we have."
Fox speculation grew in fervor late Tuesday after reports surfaced that Fox's intellectual property department had registered the domain name ConanonFox.com. Earlier this evening, visitors to the site were redirected to a page selling Fox television show merchandise.
But hours later, the ConanonFox.com URL redirected visitors to a Twitter page, where an apparent O'Brien fan confessed online that he was behind the domain name, not Fox. A Fox representative had confirmed to ABCNews.com that the domain was not registered by Fox.
On his Twitter page, the fan, listed as Brandon Cecil, said he tried to reserve the domain name for O'Brien and Fox so "they wouldnt (sic) get screwd (sic) like JimmykimmelLive.com."
The domain name JimmykimmelLive.com does not direct fans of ABC comedy show host Jimmy Kimmel to his official, "Jimmy Kimmel Live" Web site, but rather to a non-ABC site.
Handel said if O'Brien does strike a lucrative deal with another network, it could, in at least one way, be a boon to NBC: Under a legal concept known as "mitigation and offset," NBC might be able to reduce its exit package to O'Brien by some amount depending on the host's new salary at his next job.
"If NBC has a deal to give $40 million," Handel said, "but [another network] pays him $30 million over the next 2.5 years, then NBC might be on hook for only $10 million."