Judge Now Says That Mattel Doesn't Get To Own All Of Bratz

from the greedy-bratz dept

We were somewhat horrified by a ruling a little over two years ago that said that because a guy employed by Mattel had created the idea for the “Bratz” doll line while employed at Mattel (but not in a doll-creating capacity), it meant that Mattel could own all of Bratz. The guy eventually took his idea to competitor MGA Entertainment, who developed and built up the Bratz line, which became the first serious challenger to Barbie’s dominance in the doll world. What really troubled us was the fact that the court ruled not just that Mattel owned the rights to the original Bratz doll idea, but that it owned everything having to do with Bratz, even plans for future dolls. While the guy worked at Mattel, all he created was a prototype, not everything that came after that. Thankfully, Judge Kozinski slapped down the lower court in much of this thinking, explaining (once again) that copyright only covers the expression, not the idea.

Judge Kozinski sent the case back to the district court, noting that it probably would mean that the entire case would need to be retried. In the first step concerning that new trial, the district court judge has ruled that Mattel cannot seek damages on later versions of the dolls, limiting that part of the case to just two original dolls. The judge noted:

“Not only do the vast majority of the subsequent generations of Bratz dolls differ in their hairstyles and fashions ? but they lack any meaningful similarities outside of ideas.”

Of course, the district court could have saved a lot of time and effort if it had just made this basic point the first time around. There will still be a trial about the initial doll designs, as well as a trade secrets claim, but, unlike the original trial, it seems that Mattel won’t end up with all of the Bratz line.

That said, the original ruling apparently did tons of damage already to MGA and Bratz. As the article notes, MGA seriously cut back on Bratz after the original ruling (why build toys that a competitor gets to own?) and many retailers stopped carrying the line as it wasn’t clear what was going to happen. So even if Mattel loses the eventual lawsuit, it seems that it may have won in the long run by seriously curtailing a strong competitor that had tremendous momentum. Just like copyright law intended…

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Companies: mattel, mga

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Comments on “Judge Now Says That Mattel Doesn't Get To Own All Of Bratz”

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32 Comments
Anonymous Howard, Cowering says:

#1 Lawsuits...

Because litigation brings immediate rewards without any more effort than surviving shyster school (remember, on average, one out of every two lawyers in this country graduated in the bottom half of their class).

Innovation takes dedication, perseverence, the ability to connect things in ways they’ve never been connected before — in short, intelligence rather than cunning.

Anonymous Coward says:

non-compete employee agreements are rediculously one sided. I remember this fight goes back much longer than 1 or 2 years. Anyone know what the bratz creator did for mattel?

P.S. I’m glad this sunk Bratz, but hate non-competes. I wasn’t wild about little girls aspiring to be hip barely clothed hoochies. I kind of view it like an oil company squashing a blood diamond mine.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re:

Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the creator sign an employment agreement that prohibited or restricted him from creating a competitive product while employed by Mattel?

As far as I recall, the employment agreement did require the guy to assign rights to inventions he made while working for Mattel to Mattel, but as judge Kozinski pointed out, this (a) only covered full inventions — not random ideas you have and (b) for the replicas and mockups he made, these were designed outside of his job duties at Mattel, and thus were not subject to the terms of the agreement, which stated it only covered work done *for Mattel*.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re:

I’d be interested in seeing the actual contract. But don’t get me wrong, I’m totally against the concept of corporate ownership of all employee creations. Alot of my friends have to work under fake names because of similar concerns.

My original post has a link to judge Kozinki’s full ruling, which doesn’t have the full contract, but does quote the relevant sections.

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100722/18242810326.shtml

average_joe says:

Re:

I think the employee’s ideas could have been covered by the employment agreement, but the issue on appeal was that the district court erred in holding that the ideas necessarily were Mattel’s. The issue should have been presented to the jury.

From the opinion:

We conclude that the agreement could be interpreted to cover ideas, but the text doesn?t compel that reading. The district court thus erred in holding that the agreement, by its terms, clearly covered ideas. . . . . If the meaning turns in part on the credibility of conflicting extrinsic evidence, a properly instructed jury should have decided the issue.

Ronald J Riley (profile) says:

One of the few times Mike Masnick gets it.

Mike Masnick does not often end up on the right side of intellectual property (IP) issues but he has in this case.

Mattel has a long history of taking liberties with others IP. While the toy industry has in the past had a pretty good reputation for dealing fairly with inventors, Mattel has not. In recent years consolidation in the industry has led to less competition and less reputable conduct.

In any event, from what I know of Mattel I cannot help but think that they deserve to be handed their heads in the MGA Bratz case.

Ronald J. Riley,

President – http://www.PIAUSA.org – RJR at PIAUSA.org

Other Affiliations:
Executive Director – http://www.InventorEd.org – RJR at InvEd.org
Senior Fellow – http://www.PatentPolicy.org
President – Alliance for American Innovation
Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
Washington, DC
Direct (202) 318-1595 – 9 am to 9 pm EST.

Ronald J Riley (profile) says:

Employment Agreements

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the creator sign an employment agreement that prohibited or restricted him from creating a competitive product while employed by Mattel?”

Those kinds of agreements are quite difficult to enforce, rightfully so.

Ronald J. Riley,

President – http://www.PIAUSA.org – RJR at PIAUSA.org

Other Affiliations:
Executive Director – http://www.InventorEd.org – RJR at InvEd.org
Senior Fellow – http://www.PatentPolicy.org
President – Alliance for American Innovation
Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
Washington, DC
Direct (202) 318-1595 – 9 am to 9 pm EST.

Ronald J Riley (profile) says:

#1 Lawsuits...

“Innovation takes dedication, perseverence, the ability to connect things in ways they’ve never been connected before — in short, intelligence rather than cunning.”

True, but the problem is most of the companies claiming to be innovators are claiming others innovations as their own.

When that happens real inventors have no choice except to sue the pants off of the shyster innovators.

Ronald J. Riley,

President – http://www.PIAUSA.org – RJR at PIAUSA.org

Other Affiliations:
Executive Director – http://www.InventorEd.org – RJR at InvEd.org
Senior Fellow – http://www.PatentPolicy.org
President – Alliance for American Innovation
Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
Washington, DC
Direct (202) 318-1595 – 9 am to 9 pm EST.

Anonymous Coward (user link) says:

Re:

“I seem to recall a line… “and first we kill all the lawyers…”

Be careful what you wish for. Before lawyers we had sovereigns deciding or trial by combat, neither of which were fairer then what happens in court. While our legal system is far from perfect, it is better than any other altrnative I have seen.

Ronald J. Riley,

President – http://www.PIAUSA.org – RJR at PIAUSA.org

Other Affiliations:
Executive Director – http://www.InventorEd.org – RJR at InvEd.org
Senior Fellow – http://www.PatentPolicy.org
President – Alliance for American Innovation
Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
Washington, DC
Direct (202) 318-1595 – 9 am to 9 pm EST.

Ron Rezendes (profile) says:

Re:

Yes! Trial by combat!

Oh my – we could clear the court dockets in just a few weekends and eliminate half of the lawyers who clog up said docket with ridiculous lawsuits.

Let’s turn this into a business enterprise and offer up the matches on pay-per-view! We can sell t-shirts proclaiming that we’re purifying the gene pool one match at a time!

=)

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

One of the few times Mike Masnick gets it.

Mike Masnick does not often end up on the right side of intellectual property (IP) issues but he has in this case.

Oh, Ron, this is why we love you….at least we know where your bias is unlike the astroturfing anonymous cowards.

I, on the other hand, believe Mike is on the right side of intellectual property issues 9 times out of 10, but I am not a IP maximalist who believes that IP is a sacred cash cow. I’d be happy with 18 year term-limits on my copyrights (hell, my copyrights are distributed under GPL anyway, so everyone already has access to them,) and I’d love to see IP become a bit more reasonable than it currently is (where IP maximalists bend and break IP to become the cash cow it is, where the winner is the guy with the most/best lawyers who got there first without actually producing anything.)

I believe that most IP maximalists take liberty with other’s IP, whether it is software vendors taking GPL code and using it in their software without following the license or patent trolls sitting on standards groups patenting anything that falls out of their meetings. If the end goal is to maximize your profit at the expense of your competitors, even when you can steal their work to maximize your product, and I believe Mattel is the end result of the equation IP maximalists seek…the IP Elite, who were there first and thus can spend all their time taxing everyone else since they don’t actually have to spend any of their time or effort actually producing anything. I weep for new content providers, because they have to spend most of their time finding out whether or not someone else has been there first. Doesn’t seem to matter whether it is patents or copyrights…especially since in this case it is a copyright argument (whether the dolls he produced during his work at Mattel look similar to the dolls produced by MGA Entertainment.)

c-cat says:

Bryant, the creator, was a Barbie designer at Mattel. He did not just come up with the idea but presented it to Mattel. Mattel is very cautious as to what house brands are allowed to compete with Barbie. They passed on the idea. Bryant also used Mattel’s fax machine to transmit information and sketches to MGA. No one knows whether he used his actual Mattel working time to work on the Bratz concept but if he used the fax machine we know that he used at least some of Mattel’s resources, however slight. He did sign a confidentiality and non-compete. MGA knew this but went ahead anyway in conducting business.

Let’s suppose that I have some apple seeds. Someone steals the seeds and plants them. Within a few years the thief has become a major apple supplier. I find evidence of the theft. Do I have a right to get my seeds back? To get a few apples? Or to get a part or all of the thief’s apple business? Sure, he supplied the water and the land but they were my seeds!

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