Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Mattel Act Like Brats Over Bratz™

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.


G in Berlin said...

Actually, I think giving a creative guy a job to be creative about dolls and then to have him say that he thought those dolls up and they are his is crap. If I am a finance guy and I think up a new financial instrument while on an employment contract, while swilling my Port and Donm Perignon on the weekend, I still need a cooling off period before taking my ideas to another financial firm and to pretend that I didn't think of it while emplyed by firm A. If I took my ideas to firm B while employed by Firm A, that would be intellectual theft and the idea would belong to A and B would owe proceeds. And that is my opinion and, I think, that of employment law.

Mr Furious said...

Look, there is certainly gray area to all of this.

Use the comic creators as an example. These are artists and writers paid to create stories for a publisher. That industry has always been work for hire. The guys who created Batman or Superman were paid only the forty dollars they made that day. Sound fair to you?

In that situation, I think royalties are a good middle-ground, and perhaps that would be the case in a creative situation like this as well.

In this particular case, the burden is on Mattel to prove what Bryant came up with was a resul of their investment. If he had an assignment to come up with some distorted dolls that look like hookers and he shopped his work around to competitors, they've got him.

He maintains that it happened while he was not under Mattel's employ. They disagree.

The fact that Bryant returned to work for Mattel after his idea took form and then took it to MGA while working at Mattel could be his downfall.

I want to know waht Mattel had him working on—if it was related, they might have a case. If it was Mr Potato Head or something, I think they are S.O.L.

fridge said...

"Quinn told jurors that Bryant came up with the idea for Bratz after signing an agreement that gave Mattel the right to anything he designed while employed by the El Segundo-based company."

I signed a similar agreement when I went to work at Pitney Bowes that anything technological in nature I came up while employed by them was theirs. If he signed such an agreement, it likely won't matter what toy he was working on.

Chris Howard said...

Fuck Mattel. Most corporate IP law is crap designed to make sure they can screw their employees instead of treating them fairly. If Mattel wouldn't have invested in Bratz originally, they ought to shut the fuck up now.

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Anonymous said...

First of all, some of the facts are not correct here. Bryant did present the idea to Mattel, but they rejected it as not being a good idea. Second, Bryant used Mattel's resources to create the prototype. This is actually a tough case considering there were allegations that Bryant changed some of the dates on his designs so he was able to argue that he did not come with the idea while working at Mattel. He was also working for Mattel and MGA at the same time w/o telling anyone. I think the correct outcome in this case is to allow MGA to keep the rights to Bratz Dolls, but Mattel should get a nice settlement just to even everything out. I'm will MGA just because Mattel rejected the idea originally, but then I am worried about the bad faith acts on the part of Bryant if the allegations are true.