Copyright Law Updates | New Settlements and Verdicts
August 11, 2008
California Jury Finds Bratz Dolls Originated with a Mattel Designer
Bryant v. Mattel, Inc.
No. CV04-9049 SGL, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, 7/17/2008
In this copyright dispute between "Barbie" doll-maker Mattel, Inc. ("Mattel") and "Bratz" doll-maker MGA Entertainment, Inc. ("MGA"), a jury sitting in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California found that Mattel's former employee conceptualized the Bratz character and name while he was still under contract with Mattel. The jury held that designer Carter Bryant ("Bryant") made most of the first sketches of the Bratz characters while he was employed by Mattel in 1999 and 2000, and that Mattel owned most of Bryant's Bratz drawings, including the three-dimensional prototypes he made for MGA. The jury also found that that MGA and its chief executive officer, Isaac Larian ("Larian"), were liable for intentional interference with Bryant's Mattel contract. The jury was hung on the issue whether Mattel owned four of Bryant's original drawings from a spiral notebook that MGA argued the designer made while he was away from Mattel. The issue of damages will be the subject of the next stage of the trial.
Mattel, represented by Quinn Emanuel Oliver Urquhart & Hedges, argued that MGA unlawfully took the idea for Bratz dolls from its employee, Bryant, because Bryant conceived the idea while still under contract with Mattel. MGA asserted that Bryant created Bratz in the time period between two stints at Mattel. Bryant had been a separate defendant in this case, but settled with Mattel on the eve of trial for an undisclosed amount.
Mattel argued that Bryant had worked for them between September 1995 and April 1998 and then returned for a second stint at Mattel between January 1999 and October 2000. He signed an agreement that gave Mattel the right to anything he designed while employed there. Mattel also asserted that MGA began showing Bratz prototypes a month after Bryant left Mattel and began selling the hugely popular dolls in toy stores five months later.
Further, according to Mattel, Bryant used a software program called Evidence E liminator to delete files from his desk top, purportedly to cover up incriminating evidence. Mattel claimed in court filings that MGA receives about $500 million a year from Bratz sales and licenses.
MGA, represented by Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, denied any wrongdoing, and, in a separate suit, accused Mattel of copying Bratz. In addition, MGA claimed that Mattel changed the design of its own “My Scene” dolls to more closely resemble the Bratz line and used its leverage with retailers to stifle competition. MGA and Bryant argued that the designer came up with the idea for the dolls and made the original sketches in 1998, while he was living with his parents in Missouri and not working for Mattel. They asserted that the sketches Bryant showed MGA in 2000 were transferred from originals he made in the summer of 1998 inspired by his watching kids walking from school, Steve Madden shoe ads in Seventeen magazine, and the cover of a Dixie Chicks album.
The jury found in favor of Mattel, believing that Bryant had developed the idea at least in part during his employment at Mattel. Larian said in a later press statement that MGA will prevail in the upcoming damages phase of the case or possibly in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal , disclaiming Bryant’s role in the creation of the Bratz dolls idea. “It is undisputed that MGA—not Carter Bryant—independently created the Bratz dolls,” Larian said. “Carter Bryant did not have anything to do with the many Bratz-related products we created, such as Bratz Babyz, Lil’ Bratz and Bratz Kidz.”
Subscribe to Copyright Law Updates
It's FREE and only takes seconds