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Bratz creator tells of origins

COURTS

While working at Mattel, he testifies, he fine-tuned drawings of the dolls before taking them to a competitor.

June 13, 2008|David Colker | Times Staff Writer

Bratz creator Carter Bryant testified Thursday that he drew up some plans for the dolls while he was working at Mattel Inc. as a designer of fashions, hairstyles and makeup for its Barbie line -- and that he used some Ken boots to put together a Bratz mock-up.

The testimony at a copyright infringement trial in Riverside could bolster Mattel's claim that it owns a stake in Bratz, which are phenomenally popular with young girls.

Bryant left Mattel for MGA Entertainment Inc. in 2000, and MGA introduced Bratz the next year.

In 1999, Bryant said, he sent a drawing of the Bratz concept to an agency for artists "to see if that was anything they might be interested in," but he didn't "have the foggiest idea of what they would become."

What they became was a product line worth what analysts have estimated to be as much as $2 billion a year.

Beyond that, the Bratz girls -- with their hip-hugging outfits, bare midriffs, big shoes and pouty lips -- may have put the hurt on 49-year-old Barbie, whose U.S. sales have been faltering and were down 12% in the first quarter of the year.

El Segundo-based Mattel sued both Bryant and MGA, based in Van Nuys, but reached an out-of-court settlement with Bryant, 39, before the trial began May 27. The terms of the settlement weren't disclosed.

Last week, MGA Chief Executive Isaac Larian testified that Bryant had received more than $30 million in royalties from the doll.

It has been MGA's contention during the jury trial that Bryant made the key drawings of the Bratz dolls in 1998, during a period of several months when he wasn't employed by Mattel and therefore not bound by exclusivity agreements that required him to turn over to Mattel any of his inventions.

Bryant went to work for Mattel in 1995 and took an eight-month break to live with his mother in Missouri. He returned to Mattel in January 1999. An MGA lawyer said in opening arguments that Bryant's mother would testify that she saw the Bratz drawings during that time.

Drawings shown to the jury on a screen in the courtroom carried several dates.

The drawing that Bryant said he had sent to the artists' agency was notarized in 1999, though he testified that he did the actual work before then. "I didn't do the drawing while I was at Mattel," he said.

Bryant said he postdated one Bratz drawing "8/98" at a later point.

"I was just trying to signify the concept," he said. "The master drawings were made in 1998."

While employed by Mattel, he said, he fine-tuned the drawings, including adding color.

He said he also fashioned a mock-up Bratz model. "I used some Ken boots," he said. "I think it was a Barbie body."

While still at Mattel, he said, he had meetings with other companies about the Bratz dolls, including one that Larian attended.

Bryant said he signed a "confidential information and inventions" agreement both times he was employed by Mattel. The agreement covered "developments, designs, know-how, data" and other items and stated that the employee wasn't permitted to "assist in any manner any business competitive" with Mattel.

Bryant said he "didn't understand everything about" the agreement at the time and that "no one went over the specific paragraphs."

His testimony, which began in mid-afternoon and lasted about 2 1/2 hours, will continue today.

Earlier this week the judge said the jury could hear evidence that Bryant used a software program called Evidence Eliminator on his computer shortly before turning it over to Mattel investigators.

The software can completely remove "sensitive material" from a computer hard drive, according to the product's website.

Mattel, owner of the Fisher-Price toy line, suffered several lead-related toy recalls in 2007 and reported a loss of $46.6 million for the most recent quarter. MGA is privately owned and doesn't disclose its earnings.

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david.colker@latimes.com

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