SANTA ANA, Calif.–A startup company scored a decisive blow against El Segundo-based toy giant Mattel today with a federal court jury deciding that MGA Entertainment–not Mattel–owns the rights to the popular Bratz doll line.

The jury–in a verdict reached Wednesday and read this morning–found that MGA did not steal any secrets, that Mattel does not own the idea for the Bratz doll and that it is owed no damages.

Instead, the jury awarded MGA $88.4 million in damages, and the judge could decide to triple that amount, MGA attorney Jennifer Keller said.

“I am grateful to the American justice system. This smart jury, and I think justice, prevailed,” according to Isaac Larian, MGA’s chief executive officer.

“I believe in the American dream,” the Iranian native said. “I came here as a 17-year-old with $750 in my pocket and a big American dream. America is the greatest nation in the world. I’m happy justice prevailed in the end.”
The jury reached a verdict Wednesday after eight days of deliberations, which began April 11 following an approximately three-month retrial.

In August 2008, a federal jury in Riverside ruled in favor of Mattel in its civil suit alleging MGA had committed copyright infringement and conspired to breach Bratz designer Carter Bryant’s contract with Mattel.

The $100 million award to Mattel was overturned by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last year, leading to the Santa Ana retrial.

A main issue for jurors to decide was whether Bryant conceived the doll line while he was working for Mattel and before he took his vision to Van Nuys-based MGA.

MGA attorney Jennifer Keller said Mattel changed its contracts from making anything created by an employee–whether off the clock or not–Mattel property before Bryant worked there.

Mattel attorney Bill Price argued that whatever Bryant created while getting a paycheck from Mattel belonged to the El Segundo toy giant.

Bryant worked for Mattel in two stints–from September 1995 to April 1998 and January 1999 to Oct. 19, 2000.

Bryant said he got the idea for the sassy, more urban line of dolls with oversized heads and feet while driving past a high school on his way home from his job at Old Navy in western Missouri. He moved there to live with his parents between his stints at Mattel.

Keller also made the case that Bryant was influenced by ads in Seventeen magazine and elsewhere.

Mattel attorneys, though, said he was probably influenced by designs from Lily Martinez, which she drew while a Mattel intern for a decal for a skating Barbie doll line.

Price said Bryant created the prototype of the Bratz dolls while he was still drawing a paycheck from Mattel.

By Paul Anderson | City News Service