Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bratz v. Barbie is a dog fight

The latest twist in the Barbie v. Bratz fight between doll manufacturers Mattel and MGA just got a whole lot weirder. MGA, the manufacturer of the Bratz line of dolls, and employer of Carter Bryant, former Mattel employee and acknowledged inventor of the Bratz line, filed its Reply to Mattel's Fourth Amended Answer and Counterclaims, asserting what can only be described as blockbuster allegations of conspiracy and trade secret misappropriation against the toy behomoth. In its pleading filed August 16, 2010, MGA unabashedly claims that Mattel employees, with the full knowledge and consent of many Mattel executives, have engaged in systematic trade espionage by misrepresenting themselves with false id's to gain entry into competitor's private showrooms at various industry trade shows. Based largely on evidence obtained from the deposition of Sal Villasenor, a former Mattel employee, the 53 page pleading describes in detail the lengths gone to by Mattel to gain information, pictures, and video of its competitors' new products at these trade shows. Stealing such information, MGA claims, would enable Mattel to find out in advance the nature of a competitor's yet unmarketed products, the quoted prices, and the identification of which products will be advertised, and would constitute "the holy grail of competitive advantage" according to MGA. Perhaps more intriguing are claims by MGA that Mattel knew, as early as 2003 and well before Mattel's original suit against Carter Bryant was filed, that Barbie's recent failures in the marketplace were due to factors in play before the Bratz line of dolls ever entered the market. According to MGA, a case study on Barbie commissioned in 2003 by Mattel executives explains in detail Barbie's history and economic importance to Mattel, and the reasons for Barbie's more recent slump in sales based on factors unrelated to Bratz. If true, the study (nicknamed the "Bratz Brief") could seriously undermine Mattel's claims of lost sales as a result of Bratz' actions which formed a major claim in the original litigation.