Anyone familiar with Trademark Law knows that Mattel is incredibly protective of its sweetheart product: Barbie. It was this and its other intellectual property related to "fashion dolls" that it sought to protect when it sued a former Mattel employee who went on to create the Bratz doll line. Mattel alleged that the employee had created the concept sketches while he was still employed, which would have been a violation of his employment contract at the time.
(In general, whenever a person is employed to "create" things, whether that be art, products, inventions, or even if they are employed as a scientist or in a similar capacity, anything created during the time of employment, even if it occurs during non-working hours at one's home, could potentially be considered the intellectual property of the company the person works for. It is common for employment contracts to contain provisions detailing the extent to which the employer owns the employee's creations.)
The employee's company MGA, Inc. , ended up winning on some of its claims and losing on others. MGA then attempted to file a distinct suit, making anti-trust allegations.
The court sums up the disposition of the prior lawsuit:
On August 4, 2011, this Court rendered judgment on the merits pursuant to a jury verdict in case 04-9049. (Dkt. 10704). The judgment awarded MGA $85 million in compensatory damages, $85 million in exemplary damages, and $2,172,000 in attorneys’ fees for MGA’s counterclaim-in-reply for trade secret misappropriation. Judgment was entered against MGA regarding its claims for common law unfair competition, statutory unfair competition, trade dress infringement, trade dress dilution, RICO violations, unjust enrichment, and wrongful injunction. Judgment was also entered against Mattel regarding its remaining claims against MGA. MGA was awarded addition attorneys fees and costs of more than $100 million.
Thus, in addition to being awarded hundreds of millions of dollars, the same issues that MGA was attempting to litigate were already included within the prior judgment. Lawyers will probably remember learning about the seemingly obscure legal theory when they were studying for the Bar Exam, which is referred to as res judicata. Essentially, it deals with the idea that if you sue someone regarding a certain matter, you include all of the things related to that matter that you want to sue them for in this lawsuit, because once this lawsuit is over, you don't get another lawsuit litigating a different aspect of that same matter. It's kinda sorta like double jeopardy, only for civil suits.
In addition to an excellent lesson on res judicata, including all of its elements, it was interesting to read the judge's granting of the motion to dismiss, because it details the history of the prior litigation. It recounts that the MGA's line of dolls were placed in a constructive trust, and dolls were ordered not to be sold until the issues were resolved. Although the trust was eventually vacated on appeal for vagueness issues and problems with jury instructions, I seem to personally remember a time when Bratz dolls were suddenly not on the market anywhere. It seemed they rose to immediate fame and then were suddenly nowhere to be found, only to repopulate the market sometime soon thereafter.
Thus, for now, Bratz won't be able to sue Barbie for her alleged monopoly on the fashion doll market.
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