LOS ANGELES (July 18) - Barbie and Bratz dolls are sisters, a jury has decided in a major victory to Mattel Inc., the world's largest toymaker, in its copyright infringement lawsuit against rival MGA Entertainment Inc.
The federal jury decided Thursday that the designer of MGA's
Bratz characters conceived the idea for the dolls while working for
Mattel - a ruling that could mean millions of dollars for the
Barbie maker when the jury considers possible damages during a
Mattel filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Riverside
against MGA, which began marketing the hugely popular Bratz line of
sassy urban dolls in 2001. Mattel has claimed it owned the rights
to the Bratz line because its creator, Carter Bryant, came up with
the concept while working for El Segundo-based Mattel.
Analysts estimate Bratz has made MGA more than $500 million a
The jury also ruled that MGA and its CEO Isaac Larian were
liable for converting Mattel property for their own use and
intentionally interfering with the contractual duties owed by
Bryant to Mattel.
"MGA and Isaac Larian took what did not belong to them," John
Quinn, a lawyer for Mattel, said during a conference call detailing
Larian said in a prepared statement that MGA will prevail in the
upcoming damages phase of the case or possibly in the 9th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals.
"This is because 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
The statement pointed out that jurors must still decide if
Mattel owns any copyrights involving Bryant's drawings. If so, the
jury must rule on whether the dolls infringe on those copyrights.
Bryant reached a confidential settlement with Mattel on the eve
of the trial and the company dropped its lawsuit against him.
The timing of Bryant's creation was key in Mattel's suit.
Mattel attorneys argued that Bryant worked for the company
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, the lawyers argued.
In a summary of the case, Mattel said MGA began showing Bratz
prototypes a month after Bryant left Mattel and began selling the
hugely popular dolls in toy stores five months later.
But Bryant testified during the six-week trial that the sketches
he showed MGA in 2000 were transferred from originals he made in
the summer of 1998 - between his two employment stints with Mattel
- that were inspired as he watched kids walking from school, Steve
Madden shoe ads in Seventeen magazine, and the cover of the Dixie
Chicks album "Chicks With Attitude."
Sales of Barbie doll - once a near rite-of-passage of American
girlhood - have slid since Bratz came on the scene. Domestic Barbie
sales were down 15 percent in 2007 and 12 percent in the first
quarter of 2008, while international sales increased 6 percent in
2008 as opposed to 12 percent the previous year.
Los Angeles-based MGA has countersued, saying 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
The news of the verdict came after the close of regular-session
trading on Wall Street, but Mattel's shares shot up $1.22, or 6.7
percent, to $19.50 in after-hours dealings Thursday.