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Judge limits Mattel claims against Bratz doll line

The toy maker can press allegations of copyright infringement against only the four original MGA dolls and two later models. Mattel can proceed with most accusations that trade secrets had been stolen.

January 04, 2011|By Andrea Chang, Los Angeles Times

Toy giant Mattel Inc. can't pursue copyright infringement claims against rival MGA Entertainment Inc.'s sexy Bratz dolls other than the original four and two later models, a federal judge ruled.

In the prolonged fight over the ownership rights to the billion-dollar Bratz doll empire, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter on Dec. 27 granted a motion by Van Nuys-based MGA to prevent Mattel from seeking infringement damages over subsequent versions of the dolls, with the exception of two: Formal Funk Dana and Ooh La La Cloe.

"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," Carter wrote in the ruling.

During the last few years, a legal tug of war between MGA and Mattel over the dolls, which launched in 2001, left the Bratz brand crippled.

The dispute began because the inventor of Bratz was employed as a Barbie designer at Mattel when he did early development on the dolls that would eventually become Bratz. That led Mattel to claim that he and MGA stole trade secrets from the company.

After a jury in 2008 sided with Mattel, the wildly successful dolls all but disappeared from stores as MGA pulled back on manufacturing and retailers kept their distance.

But a federal appeals court last July overturned the jury's decision, setting the stage for a renewed battle over the brand that is expected to last several months.

The retrial is scheduled to begin this month in Orange County. Last week, MGA filed an emergency request to postpone the start of the trial by two months while it appeals Carter's refusal to allow the company to change lawyers.

The judge allowed Mattel to proceed with most of its claims that trade secrets had been stolen.

On Monday, El Segundo-based Mattel said in a statement that "we have great confidence in the judicial system to right the wrongs that Mattel has suffered."

MGA Chief Executive Isaac Larian said in an e-mail that "Mattel's goal is and always [has] been to litigate MGA to death.... May justice prevail at the end."

andrea.chang@latimes.com

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