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Bratz retrial's jury hears closing arguments

A verdict in the Mattel-MGA case could come as soon as next week. A major point of contention centers on when and where Bratz creator Carter Bryant came up with the idea for the popular dolls.

April 09, 2011|By Andrea Chang, Los Angeles Times
  • A lineup of Bratz dolls in 2006. The jury is being asked to determine a host of issues, including when the original Bratz drawings were created.
A lineup of Bratz dolls in 2006. The jury is being asked to determine a host… (MGA Entertainment )

After nearly three months of courtroom testimony, the bitter dispute between toy giant Mattel Inc. and rival MGA Entertainment Inc. over ownership of the sassy Bratz doll line was sent to a jury for deliberations.

A verdict could come as soon as next week. The jury heard final arguments in the copyright infringement case in federal court in Santa Ana on Friday in front of a packed courtroom that included the chief executives of both companies.

A major point of contention centers on when and where Bratz creator and former Barbie designer Carter Bryant came up with the idea for the wildly popular multi-ethnic dolls known for their oversized heads, pouty lips and risque clothing.

Bryant has contended that he came up with the idea for Bratz in 1998 when he was on a break from the company and living with his parents in Missouri.

El Segundo-based Mattel said that he came up with the idea in 1999 during his second stint with the company and that he violated the terms of his "inventions agreement" by taking the concept for the dolls to rival MGA, the Van Nuys company that produced the billion-dollar franchise.

In his closing arguments, Mattel lawyer Bill Price sought to cast doubt on the credibility of Bryant and MGA Chief Executive Isaac Larian, saying the two had colluded in a major cover-up of the early stages of the Bratz dolls.

"Here's one thing you know about Mr. Larian and Mr. Bryant, and that is that they're willing to get together and make false statements under penalty of perjury," he said.

Price portrayed MGA as an underperforming, mediocre company with no fashion-doll designers until Bryant showed up. Bratz went on to become a sensation, grabbing market share away from Barbie's empire; Price reminded the jury that Mattel had lost more than $300 million in profit as a result of Bratz being brought to market.

"You can't afford for your own designs to be used against you," Price said. "You compete in this marketplace by using your own product."

MGA lawyer Jennifer Keller told the jury that Mattel, the world's No. 1 toy maker, had brought the lawsuit because it was threatened and panicked by Bratz's success.

She cast the feud as a David-and-Goliath battle, with Mattel "bullying" Bryant to the point of causing him emotional distress, including depression.

"The culture at Mattel is really different. It's all about profit," she said. "They own you, they own your voice mails. Cameras are on you all the time. It's creepy."

Keller sought to downplay some of Larian's courtroom antics in the last few months — such as declaring during testimony that Mattel and the trial had killed his father — by portraying the CEO as a passionate immigrant who loved toys and "was still a little bit of a kid."

She said it was Mattel's burden to prove that the doll drawings were not created in 1998 and said the company had not adequately done so.

During the original trial in 2008, a jury in Riverside sided with Mattel. The company, which had claimed copyright infringement and breach of contract, was awarded $100 million in damages, and MGA was ordered to turn over the franchise to Mattel.

The jury's decision was overturned last year by an appeals court, which ruled that MGA deserved "sweat equity" for manufacturing and marketing the dolls.

The case was sent to U.S. District Judge David O. Carter in Santa Ana for retrial. On Friday, Carter told jurors that he expected them to be in court on Monday and that the trial wouldn't be derailed by a possible government shutdown.

This time, the jury has heard the copyright claims as well as accusations from each company that the other side stole trade secrets. It is being asked to determine a host of issues, including the scope of Bryant's contract with Mattel as well as when the original Bratz drawings were created.

andrea.chang@latimes.com

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