The rights to the popular Bratz doll franchise belong to Mattel Inc., not a rival toymaker that stole the concept that became a global darling among consumers, a lawyer for Mattel said Tuesday.
Attorney John Quinn made the claim during his opening statement in the federal copyright infringement trial pitting Mattel against MGA Entertainment Inc., the maker of the urban-themed Bratz dolls.
Quinn contended that Mattel, the world’s largest toymaker, owns the rights to the fashion dolls because designer Carter Bryant created the concept while employed at Mattel.
“This explains how a small company that never designed a fashion doll ... was able in a short period of time to come up with a doll that became a global hit,” Quinn told jurors.
Los Angeles-based MGA has denied the allegations and 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 competition.
Mattel Chief Executive Officer Robert A. Eckert and MGA CEO Isaac Larian were both present in the packed courtroom.
Mattel has said Bryant worked for the company between September 1995 and April 1998 then returned in January 1999 and left in October 2000.
Attorney Thomas Nolan, who represents MGA, argued in his opening statement that Bryant came up with the Bratz concept in August 1998 when he visited his family in Missouri and saw magazine ads featuring caricatures resembling what eventually became the Bratz dolls.
“The evidence is going to be — and you can’t shake it — is that it’s 1998 when he does the drawings,” Nolan said.
Quinn told jurors that Bryant came up with the idea for Bratz after signing an agreement that gave Mattel the right to anything he designed while employed by the El Segundo-based company.
Instead, Bryant took the proposed dolls to MGA, which produced the line and sold millions around the world, the lawyer said.
“MGA never had the rights to these drawings. They were always Mattel’s,” Quinn said.
Mattel reached a confidential settlement with Bryant last week and dropped its lawsuit against him. He is expected to testify at the trial.
Barbie sales have slid since the pouty-lipped Bratz line hit shelves in 2001.
If jurors find that Mattel’s rights were infringed, the toymaker could collect hundreds of millions of dollars in licensing fees from MGA.
Quinn said MGA never pursued the development of fashion dolls until Bryant approached the company with the Bratz drawings.
Later, Larian tried to conceal Bryant’s involvement by telling employees not to mention Bryant’s name, Quinn alleged.
“MGA couldn’t keep it a secret forever. It was too big,” Quinn said.
Bryant was identified as the creator of the Bratz line in a 2003 article in the Wall Street Journal.
Bryant has said he became inspired to create Bratz between the two stints at Mattel, and it wasn’t anything more than an idea until he left the company.
Nolan hinted that Mattel was jealous that its competitor snagged the profitable Bratz concept.
“In the end, MGA took the risk to bring Bratz into the market,” Nolan said. “Mattel is not entitled to what they didn’t think of or what they didn’t manufacture.”
Mattel filed the original lawsuit four years ago. The company also alleges MGA tried to boost its profits by pilfering other confidential and proprietary information.
MGA also denied those allegations.