Can you hear millions of little girls around the country crying into their sippy cups? This is the result of the harsh world of branding -- you have to protect your products at all costs. Mattel, being the world's largest toymaker, has the most at stake and also the biggest war chest for carrying out a fight like this. But these sorts of battles play out across the business world every day at all sorts of levels, right down to one of your co-workers presenting one of your ideas as his own.
This particular case is probably more common that you'd think, given the millions involved. The dispute was over whether or not Bratz doll designer Carter Bryant came up with the concept for the dolls while he was working for Mattel, and then quit to make the dolls with another company. A federal jury found that this was the case. But the new wranglings are about whether or not MGA Entertainment can continue with the line, which has more than 40 characters and a ton of spin-off products. Is it only first-generation dolls, which spawned from Bryant's design? Or the whole she-bang? If Mattel wins, will county sheriff's be breaking into people's homes to collect their illegal dolls, or will they issue a lead-paint-style recall, where people are asked to destroy them?
It would seem, in cases like this, that the cat (or rather, the brat) is out of the bag. This is why these cases are so hard to settle and hinge on cash penalties. The same thing in going on at dozens of companies right now -- RIM Blackberry faces this dilemma, as does Vonage, to name just two -- and when the whole company's business is based on a "stolen" design, it can spell huge trouble.
Mattel has been so fierce in fighting this case because sales of rival Barbie dolls have slid since Bratz came on the scene in 2001, and were down 15% in 2007. Mattel as a whole isn't doing so great either, with the economy, toy recalls and other problems weighing down the company. It recently announced it was laying off 1,000 employees.