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In Barbie v. Bratz, Mattel wins Round One


EL SEGUNDO, Calif. In case there were any question as to what the biggest story of the summer is shaping up to be, look no further than the toy aisle, specifically the area where Bratz dolls are sold.

Heralded as perhaps one of the greatest toy and licensing success stories in recent years, the launch in 2001 of the now ubiquitous Bratz doll has led to a veritable empire of Bratz-related product, not least of which is a Bratz TV show, an upcoming Bratz feature film scheduled to land in theaters Aug. 3, and a virtually endless list of Bratz licensed products, from video games to wallpaper.

Yet in one of the most anticipated, and significant, copyright infringement cases in years, a decision this week in favor of Mattel Inc. may not only resolve the question of who created Bratz, but what will be the fate of the Bratz empire, a brand that can be found in one line or another in almost every retailer in America, from the cereal aisle at Kroger to the bedding department at JCPenney.

The decision marks the culmination of a seven-week trial in federal court brought by Mattel, which originally made the claim that the creator of Bratz, Carter Bryant, was an employee of Mattel when he developed the doll concept, and that the company that owns Bratz, MGA Entertainment, knowingly "converted" Mattel property for its own use, according to court documents.

The decision handed down by a jury Thursday in favor of Mattel addressed the specific question of which retailer owns the rights to Bryant's original Bratz drawings. It did not, however, address the greater implications of the fate of the now $1 billion line of Bratz products, a decision whose implications would affect, to varying degrees, just about every major retailer and manufacturer in the country.

In a statement issued by MGA, the company, citing one of the trial lead lawyers, expressed the following: “Most importantly, the verdict issued … does NOT entitle Mattel to any rights whatsoever of Bratz. [It] merely determined that certain drawings by Carter Bryant were created while he worked at Mattel.”

Ultimately, however, it is the jury that will decide the fate of Bratz when it reconvenes Wednesday July 23 for the all-important damages phase.

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