An epic seven-year legal battle of Mattel, Inc. v. MGA Entertainment Inc., et al. (LA CV 04-9049-DOC) has either just ended or is coming close to winding down.
After starting out strong in the Battle of the Dolls, Mattel, the owner of the Barbie doll brand, seemed to have gained an advantage over its smaller rival MGA Entertainment, which owns the Bratz doll brand. In 2008 a federal jury found in favor of Mattel and MGA was on the hook for $100 million. The challenger was staggered.
However, after taking the early rounds, Mattel seemed to weaken as the appeals were heard and, well, things just didn't go so well for Barbie. The victory quickly vanished amidst the hilarious July 22, 2010, Opinion of Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. I commend his wonderful comments to you:
Barbie was the unrivaled queen of the fashion-doll market throughout the latter half of the 20th Century. But 2001 saw the introduction of Bratz, "The Girls With a Passion for Fashion!" Unlike the relatively demure Barbie, the urban, multiethnic and trendy Bratz dolls have attitude. This spunk struck a chord, and Bratz became an overnight success. Mattel, which produces Barbie, didn't relish the competition. And it was particularly unhappy when it learned that the man behind Bratz was its own former employee, Carter Bryant.
At page 10529
Assuming that Mattel owns Bryant's preliminary drawings and sculpt, its copyrights in the works would cover only its particular expression of the bratty-doll idea, not the idea itself. See Herbert Rosenthal Jewelry Corp. v. Kalpakian, 446 F.2d 738, 742 (9th Cir. 1971). Otherwise, the first person to express any idea would have a monopoly over it. Degas can't prohibit other artists from painting ballerinas, and Charlaine Harris can't stop Stephenie Meyer from publishing Twilight just because Sookie came first. Similarly, MGA was free to look at Bryant's sketches and say, "Good idea! We want to create bratty dolls too."
At page 10540
Mattel argues that the sculpt was entitled to broad protection because there are many ways one can depict an exaggerated human figure. It's true that there's a broad range of expression for bodies with exaggerated features: One could make a fashion doll with a large nose instead of a small one, or a potbelly instead of a narrow waist. But there's not a big market for fashion dolls that look like Patty and Selma Bouvier. Little girls buy fashion dolls with idealized proportions -which means slightly larger heads, eyes and lips; slightly smaller noses and waists; and slightly longer limbs than those that appear routinely in nature. But these features can be exaggerated only so much: Make the head too large or the waist too small and the doll becomes freakish, not idealized.
At page 10544
Novelty could have created another plush doll of a middle-aged farting man that would seem nothing like Fred. He could, for example, have a blond mullet and war flannel, have a nose that is drawn on rather than protruding substantially from the rest of the head, be standing rather than ensconced in an armchair, and be wearing shorts rather than blue pants."
At page 10546
America thrives on competition; Barbie, the all-American girl, will too.
At page 10549
Mattel, Inc. v. MGA Entertainment, Inc. et al. (9th Circuit, Opinion by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, July 22, 2010)
On April 21, 2011, a federal jury found in favor of MGA Entertainment Inc.'s claim that Mattel has misappropriated trade secrets. That verdict came with a nearly $89 million damages price tag. Although the jury also found that MGA had interfered with designer Carter Bryant's contract with Mattel, that resulted in the relatively puny slap of a $10,000 award to Mattel.