California Mattel lawyer accuses MGA of luring Bratz designer

By Gillian Flaccus

Associated Press

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) -- Toy rivals Mattel Inc. and MGA Entertainment Inc. on Tuesday began the second round of their lengthy legal battle over the rights to the wildly popular Bratz line, with two markedly different versions of the development of the multibillion-dollar brand.

In his opening statement at the copyright infringement case, Mattel attorney John Quinn said MGA conspired with Bratz designer Carter Bryant to steal the idea for Bratz while Bryant still worked for Mattel.

Quinn told jurors that MGA CEO Isaac Larian then poached key Mattel employees to support the doll line and lied when reporters asked about the genesis of the small company's overnight hit.

Since Bratz dolls first hit shelves in 2001, Los Angeles-based MGA has sold $3.3 billion in related products, with $292 million in profits, Quinn said. He said the doll also decreased Mattel's Barbie profits by $393 million.

"We will prove to you that Bratz was created in Mattel's design center, using the same people assembled to create Mattel's toys, including Barbies," Quinn said. "We will prove that Bratz was created by Mattel, secretly stolen by MGA, and MGA took Mattel's design and with it took Mattel's sales."

MGA attorney Jennifer Keller painted a different picture for jurors and said Bryant came up with the idea for the pouty-lipped, multiethnic dolls while on an eight-month hiatus from Mattel. She said Larian had been looking for a new type of doll that reflected today's worldly, diverse kids and found it in Bryant's sketches.

When Bratz sales took off and Mattel couldn't compete, she said, the toy giant vowed to crush its smaller competitor.

"There are really two sides to every story," she said. "After the Bratz dolls became an international hit, and after Mattel's attempts to imitate them with its massive creative genius flopped, Mattel ruthlessly used its power to keep retailers from carrying Bratz."

The trial marks the second time the copyright infringement lawsuit involving Bratz has been litigated in federal court. Billions of dollars in future revenue -- and possibly the fate of MGA -- are on the line.

Mattel first sued Bryant in 2004 and the company has since spent $150 million on legal fees and been forced to lay off 300 employees. MGA then intervened in the lawsuit and Mattel settled with Bryant on the eve of the first trial for $2 million, Quinn said.

Two years ago, a federal jury awarded Mattel $100 million and found that Bryant had developed the concept for the dolls while working for Mattel. An appeals court later overturned the verdict, and the case was sent back for a retrial.

This time, jurors will be asked to determine the scope of the invention agreement signed by Bryant at Mattel before he went to work for MGA and to decide on MGA's counterclaims that Mattel engaged in unfair business practices.

In those counter-allegations, MGA accuses Mattel of sending gumshoes using fake IDs to spy on MGA at trade shows and threatening retailers and distributors who did business with MGA.

Keller, MGA's attorney, presented jurors with a 2004 Mattel internal memo titled "Fight Fire With Fire," which said the company was under attack in a "rival-led Barbie genocide."

"This is war and sides must be taken: Barbie stands for good. All others stand for evil," the memo read.

Mattel denies the spying allegations, Quinn said, and told jurors the claims were filed to distract them from MGA's wrongdoing. The information MGA claims Mattel stole was public knowledge, he said.

Published: Thu, Jan 20, 2011

Comments

  1. No comments
Sign in to post a comment »