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Anything but a Child’s Game: Intellectual Property Security Lessons Learned from Barbie v. Bratz

September 29, 2008

This year’s steel-cage legal tussle pitted America’s most iconic doll, Barbie, against her new-age rival, the Bratz doll. In case you’ve missed the developments that led to this summer’s trial between the dolls’ respective manufacturers, Mattel and MGA Entertainment, check out this Wall Street Journal article. In short, however, the intellectual property battle boiled down to the following facts:

• 1998: Designer Carter Bryant left Mattel and, inspired by then-current teenage fashion styles, had the original idea for Bratz dolls.
• 1999: Bryant rejoined Mattel, signing a new contract to design clothes for the Barbie line.
• 2000: Bryant used a vacation day from Mattel to discuss his doll idea with MGA. He subsequently accepted a position with MGA and began development of the Bratz line.
• 2002: Mattel received an anonymous letter indicating that Bryant had created the Bratz dolls while still employed by Mattel.
• 2004: Mattel filed suit against Bryant, accusing him of creating Bratz on Mattel time, thus stealing Mattel intellectual property.
• 2006: Mattel expanded its suit to include MGA. In that same year, Bryant agreed to a confidential settlement with Mattel – leaving Mattel and MGA to duke it out.

(EMBED VIDEO ON SITE)

(Video credit: Wall Street Journal)

Accusations of stolen intellectual property? This case was certainly right up our alley. Had the case involved electronic records, you’d certainly would have seen it included on our Wall of Shame shortly after a jury awarded , Mattel $100 million finding that the Bratz line was created using intellectual property wrongfully taken by a Mattel employee.

According to Litigation Daily, the first part of the case came down to the ever-important question of timing:

When did former Mattel designer Carter Bryant sketch the design that became the MGA-produced Bratz doll? To make Mattel’s case, Quinn brought in a document examiner who performed indentation analysis on notebooks that Bryant used while a Mattel employee. The Bratz drawings had been torn out, but the document expert was able to show that traces of the drawings remained on blank pages in Bryant’s notebook.

As manufacturing R&D increasingly moves from paper-based records to electronic records, this case presents a critical reminder that evidence of intellectual property ownership can – and likely will be – one day challenged in court, and that in that instance, it is your company’s responsibility to prove that your electronic records of invention and ownership are authentic.

Have questions about how to do this? Check out this whitepaper from Atrium Research on Record Integrity and Authentication for Electronic R&D, this case study on how one global company is security its intellectual property , or this whitepaper from CSC’s Leading Edge Forum on digital intellectual property protection (http://lef.csc.com/library/publicationdetail.aspx?id=5816).

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