Carter Bryant v. Mattel, Inc. / Mattel Inc. v. MGA Entertainment, Inc.

Most recently, Mattel, Inc.’s (Mattel) asked a federal court of appeals in San Francisco to reverse the $310 million in damages and attorneys’ fees the District Court for the Central District of California ordered Mattel to pay over in a prolonged battle over the ownership rights to the billion dollar “Bratz” doll empire against a former employee and Bratz designer, Carter Bryant, and MGA Entertainment (MGA). In particular, Mattel challenged the $17.25 million that MGA won on its counterclaims for trade secrets misappropriation by Mattel. It argued that the claims were time-barred. It added that MGA also failed to prove that its alleged trade secrets were really trade secrets.

Mattel’s most recent action is not its first attempt to fight the heavy judgment. On August 4, 2011 the District Court denied Mattel’s motions for judgment as a matter of law (JNOV) and for a new trial. It found that the factual record supported an eight-person jury’s conclusions that MGA had used reasonable efforts to maintain its trade secrets for the Bratz dolls, which Mattel misappropriated by misrepresentation. Although the District Court remitted MGA’s damages award of $88.5 million to $85 million, it also ordered Mattel to pay an additional $139.9 million in attorneys’ fees and costs.

In 2004, Mattel first claimed copyright infringement and theft of its trade secrets by MGA and Bratz designer, Carter Bryant. Four years later, a federal jury awarded Mattel $100 million. However, the verdict was overturned on appeal and sent back for retrial on which the scope of Mattel’s claims was limited. Mattel could only pursue the copyright infringement claims against the four original MGA dolls and two later models (“Formal Funk Dana” and “Ooh La La Cloe”), but could proceed with most of its trade secret theft claims.

However, an eight-person jury returned a verdict against Mattel on April 21, 2011. Specifically, the jury found that Mattel did not own a copyright in the creative designs behind the dolls. It also found that the ideas, designs and name of the doll collection were not Mattel’s trade secrets and, generally, MGA did not misappropriate any of Mattel’s trade secrets. The jury, however, found that Mattel misappropriated 26 of MGA’s trade secrets, awarding MGA $3.4 million for each misappropriated trade secret for an approximate total of $88.5 million.

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