Barbie v. Bratz: The never-ending court battle

Bratz dolls.

Barbie was back in court this week. The 54-year-old doll made by Mattel has been involved in a lawsuit with MGA Entertainment -- the company that makes those Bratz dolls. You know, the ones with the giant heads, pouty lips and big eyes? It's a legal battle that's been going on for nine years. Yesterday, a federal appeals court told Mattel it doesn't have to pay the $172 million in damages that a jury awarded MGA.

The origin of Bratz is the heart of this legal battle. Carter Bryant says he made the first drawings of his multi-ethnic, hip-hop inspired doll when he wasn't working for Mattel. Mattel says he came up with the idea while he was working for it.

MGA introduced Bratz in 2001 and they were a huge success. It was the first time that Barbie had any real competition. Bratz actually outsold Barbie in the U.K. for 23 consecutive months. There was a Bratz movie and even a TV show.

But the Bratz boom eventually went bust. My 5-year-old cousin Alysa has never even heard of them. She prefers her American Girl Doll. "It's more bigger than a real doll," she told me.

At this point, neither the American Girl Doll nor Bratz pose much of a threat to Mattel, which still has over 16 percent market share. So why would Mattel continue to pay huge legal fees to fight this battle? According to toy industry analyst Sean McGowan, it's not about the money. "From Mattel's perspective, it was very important for them to send a message," he says.

That message: We will do whatever it takes, to protect our intellectual property. "You can bet that anyone working for Mattel that's thinking of freelancing and coming up with a product of their own is going to think twice about how they do it," added McGowan.

But the biggest threat to Barbie isn't even a doll. It's the tablet. McGowan says, "one of the fastest growing trends in the toy industry is a non-toy."

Meanwhile, the legal battle between Barbie and the Bratz continues.

About the author

David Weinberg is a general assignment reporter at Marketplace.

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