BUSINESS: Barbie's Mattel Sues Maker of Bratz Dolls
Morning Edition, June 3, 2008 · The popular Bratz dolls have been taking the spotlight away from Barbie. But toy-making giant and Barbie parent Mattel says it owns Bratz. The companies are in court, fighting over the exact moment that the designer came up with the idea for Bratz.
As a member of the (lately) much-maligned "creative class" I have a stong opinion/reaction to this. This sounds like a classic work-for-hire case. Mattel contends that the guy who "invented" Bratz did it during his tenure at Mattel—therefore it belongs to them.
Carter Bryant, the toy designer, maintains that he came up with the concept during an 8-month hiatus from working at Mattel [link]:
Bryant came up with the Bratz concept in August 1998 when he visited his family in Missouri and saw magazine ads featuring caricatures resembling what eventually became the Bratz dolls.
The case is now at the forensics level as they try to analyze the ink from his sketches...Seriously.
Here's the deal. "Work for Hire" sucks. For a company to be able to lay claim to a person's imagination is a crock. If Mattel could prove that Bryant was on-the-clock working on development for a new line of slutty dolls as part of his job, I'd say they have a case. But they want to claim anything you think of during the time you are employed—not just while at work, but the duration of your employment is their intellectual property.
If I wake up in the middle of the night with a brilliant idea, it should be mine. And unless I take it in to the office, and sell my boss on investing the company's resources in it, it should remain mine. Bryant never brought his idea to Mattel, though he did return to work there. He took his ideas to a new, young company—while still working at Mattel—and when the new company, MGA, bought in, he quit Mattel, and Bratz went on to kick the fifty-year-old Barbie's ass down the toy aisle.
Sounds to me like a creative guy came up with a good idea on his own, recognized that it would never fly with Mattel, took it somewhere else and was successful. That is how it should be.
Now Mattel is looking sounding like a sore loser and looking to stifle the competition. Lumbering behemoth, dinosaur companies that refuse to change with the times or recognize trends, and also treat their talent like drones, should get gnawed on by smaller innovators.
Other than rooting for this David to triumph over Goliath, I think Bratz are crap, and my daughters will never have them.