Mattel Tells Federal Jury MGA Stole Bratz Doll Idea as Second Trial Closes
Mattel Inc. (MAT) asked a jury to find that rival toymaker MGA Entertainment Inc. stole the idea for the Bratz doll at the end of a second trial over the origins of the pouty, multiethnic figurine.
“This case is about building a brand using another company’s confidential information,” William Price, a lawyer for Mattel, told the federal court jury in Santa Ana, California, in his closing argument today. “Bratz was created at Mattel.”
The jury is asked to determine whether closely held MGA stole Mattel’s trade secrets in 2000, when it made an agreement with a designer who Mattel says worked for them at the time he came up with the idea for Bratz, and whether the dolls MGA started selling in 2001 infringed Mattel’s copyright.
Last year, a federal appeals court overturned a 2008 verdict in Mattel’s favor. A jury in Riverside, California, had awarded Mattel $100 million in damages after agreeing that the designer, Carter Bryant, made most of the initial sketches for the dolls while he worked for El Segundo, California-based Mattel. Mattel had sought as much as $1 billion in damages.
In the current trial, Mattel claims $314 million to $544 million in lost profits.
Jennifer Keller, a lawyer for Van Nuys, California-based MGA, said in her closing statement that Mattel is a giant corporation out to crush a smaller competitor of the Barbie doll.
“Who is trying to steal here? Not us,” Keller told jurors. “Mattel is trying to steal everything MGA made out of this initial set of drawings.”
Mattel didn’t provide any witness who saw Bryant create the original drawings at Mattel in 1999, as the company claims he did, Keller said. The designer has always maintained he came up with the Bratz idea and made the first drawings in 1998, while he was living in Missouri with his parents in between two stints of working for Mattel, she said.
“He’s been accused of being a liar because they know that, if they can’t disprove that, they’re out,” she said.
The jury will also decide on MGA’s claims that Mattel stole its trade secrets because Mattel employees used fake identities to get access to MGA’s show rooms at toy fairs.
John Quinn, a Mattel lawyer, told the jury that the information toymakers provide to retailers and the press at these events aren’t trade secrets.
“This claim is the biggest effort of all to distract you from the theft of a brand,” Quinn said. “It’s transparent.”
The appeals court, in ordering a second trial, said the lower-court judge had erred in ruling that Bryant’s employment agreement entitled Mattel to the designer’s drawings as a matter of law. The appeals court also found that the judge, Stephen Larson, who has since returned to private practice, was wrong to award Mattel the rights to most of MGA’s Bratz products.
The case is Bryant v. Mattel, 04-09049, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Santa Ana).
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