It’s amazing how one person’s idea can turn into a patent war between two major companies. In the case of Carter Bryant, an idea for dolls which began with some sketches in 1998 while he was living with his parents in Missouri, later turned into a major battle. Bryant went to work for Mattel Inc., based in El Segundo, California, which claims they began work on designing the dolls with Bryant while he was working for them.
In 2000, MGA Entertainment, based in Van Nuys, California, made a deal with Bryant and, in 2001, the Bratz dolls were released. They were an immediate hit among “tweens” and threatened to de-throne the long-ruling queen of dolls, Mattel’s infamous Barbie. In 2004, Mattel sued Bryant for allegedly working with a competitor while also working with Mattel, and Mattel also sued MGA for alleged copyright infringement. The case against Bryant settled rather quickly but the battle with MGA rages on.
The case went back and forth in the courts. Initially, a jury agreed that Bryant had developed the concept while working with Mattel and thereby awarded the company $100 million.
The decision was overruled on appeal however when the 9th Circuit court overturned that decision and ordered a new trial.
MGA counter-sued, alleging Mattel had engaged in corporate espionage when some of their employees gained access to some of MGA’s designs at a toy fair. Mattel then allegedly used the information gained to try to keep Bratz dolls off the shelves and thereby participated in some illegal practices of their own.
In April 2011, a jury sided with MGA, awarding the entertainment company $3.4 for each of 26 instances they found of Mattel using misappropriated trade secrets, a total of $88.4 million. With fees and damages together, Mattel was ordered to pay $172 million in punitive damages in addition to the judge’s order of $137 million in legal fees and costs to defend against Mattel. This brought the entire award to over $309 million.
According to the U.S. District judge, the copyright case that Mattel was alleging was “stunning in scope and unreasonable in relief it requested.” He also said that the claims endangered free expression and competition.
A federal appeals court however has overturned the $172 million punitive damages ruling. The court decided that, as it is considering Mattel’s copyright infringement lawsuit against MGA, Mattel’s trade-secret thefts are irrelevant to the case. However, the court allowed the award of $137 million to cover legal fees and costs to remain. The case will now return to the courts.
MGA has said that it intends to file a new lawsuit to pursue their trade-theft claims against Mattel.
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