In Part I of this story [link to Part I], we talked about the infamous case where Barbie sued Bratz. The mastermind behind the glamorous Bratz dolls, Carter Bryant, worked for Mattel as a Barbie clothing designer while pitching the Bratz doll idea to MGA Entertainment. Mattel sued Bryant and MGA for stealing its intellectual property and a jury awarded it $100 million. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit rejected the decision and remanded the case for a new trial. Ultimately a federal jury rejected Mattel’s claim.
Does Copyright Cover Ideas?
In the 9th Circuit’s decision, the court cited the ambiguity of Mattel’s employment agreement with Bryant. In Part I we talked about how the employment agreement failed to use precise language in assigning any ideas Bryant came up with while working for Mattel to the company. [link to Part I] But the appeals court also ruled that copyright doesn’t necessarily cover ideas.
In its opinion, the 9th Circuit limited copyright to the tangible expression of ideas, rather than the ideas themselves, stating, “Mattel can’t claim a monopoly over fashion dolls with a bratty look or attitude, or dolls sporting trendy clothing—these are all unprotectable ideas.” While the original Bratz prototypes might have been close enough to the drawings Bryant created while working for Mattel, the later dolls were very different, with only their “brattiness” in common. The idea and attitude for the dolls wasn’t protected intellectual property.
But that’s not where this saga ends….
The Dispute Continues
In a counterclaim, MGA sued Mattel for stealing its intellectual property, accusing the Barbie creator of sneaking into trade shows with false credentials to steal MGA’s trade secrets. A jury found that Mattel’s actions were willful and malicious and MGA was awarded more than $170 million in punitive and compensatory damages, plus attorneys fees. The award was ultimately reversed on appeal. But in the conflict that will never end, MGA filed a new suit against Mattel in early 2014. The case was dismissed earlier this year, but is currently being appealed. Maybe someday Barbie and Bratz will call a truce….
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