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Sequence of events is key in Bratz suit

Mattel attorneys focus on when the popular rival doll was created.

June 06, 2008|David Colker | Times Staff Writer

Never has the birth date of a doll been so important -- worth possibly billions of dollars. At the Barbie vs. Bratz face-off in federal court Thursday, the battle in the dueling copyright infringement lawsuits was largely over the date the phenomenally successful Bratz dolls were created.

Mattel Inc. -- home of the Barbie empire -- alleges in its suit that the dolls were secretly created by one of its employees and then taken to rival MGA Entertainment Corp., which makes the Bratz line.

At one point Thursday, Mattel's lawyers showed enlargements of doll drawings, clearly labeled "Bratz," on screens at U.S. District Court in Riverside.

Isaac Larian, chief executive and majority owner of MGA, was asked if he saw the drawings -- showing the dolls' characteristic hip-hugging jeans and bare midriffs -- at a meeting in September 2000.

"These were the drawings that were shown to me," Larian said.

The date was important because the man behind the drawings was Carter Bryant, a Mattel designer. Bryant defected later that year to MGA, where he has collected about $30 million in royalties off Bratz, according to Larian's testimony.

Mattel is claiming it's owed a stake in Bratz because Bryant had an exclusivity contract with the company.

In an opening argument last week, MGA attorney Tom Nolan countered that the actual creation of the Bratz came during a time that Bryant wasn't working for Mattel.

MGA is a private company and hasn't released detailed information on how much it has earned from Bratz, but analysts have said it's as much as $2 billion a year.

The high stakes involved were underscored by an anonymous letter submitted to the court that MGA said it received Wednesday. The letter warned Larian that Mattel executives "have collaborated to spy on you and your family at your home and your children's school."

After a discussion among Judge Stephen Larson and attorneys from both sides, conducted out of earshot of those in the courtroom, Larson said he had sealed the letter and he didn't discuss its content.

Mattel spokeswoman Lisa Marie Bongiovanni said in a statement that "the allegations concerning Mattel executives and their alleged activities are completely unfounded."

Larian will testify today, followed by Mattel CEO Bob Eckert.

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david.colker@latimes.com

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