September 06, 2019

Photo Credit: Mark Ralston / Staff / Getty Images

When Carter Bryant invented Bratz dolls, Mattel (the makers of Barbie) took its former employee to court, claiming he had come up with his ideas on the company’s time. Bratz were the first dolls to successfully compete and - in some places - outsell Barbie. Orly Lobel, a law professor at the University of San Diego, has written about the lengthy and costly legal fight Mattel and Bryant engaged in over Bratz in her book: You Don’t Own Me: The Court Battles That Exposed Barbie’s Dark Side. That fight, Lobel explains, was emblematic of a serious issue that American workers now face: heavy restrictions on their talent and creative ideas.  

Three Takeaways:

  • Bryant, who once served as Barbie’s personal stylist, initially proposed to Mattel a reinvention of the iconic doll to account for the variation in women he saw in the real world. Mattel, though, shot him down, and Bryant later sold the idea of Bratz dolls to the company’s rival, MGA Entertainment.
  • Mattel claimed that Bryant developed the idea for Bratz on Mattel’s time, and it therefore owned those ideas. Mattel even went as far as to threaten toy stores and companies that wanted to sell the competing doll, even though Mattel itself had in large part copied a German doll to create Barbie.
  • Too often, our talent and capacities for invention, Lobel thinks, are owned by a single company. Many companies make workers sign wide-ranging agreements that later allow those companies to claim that even work initiated before the employee is hired can be considered company property. This can impede America’s ability to compete on a global scale, and it can prevent the enrichment of knowledge networks.

More Reading:

  • Carter Bryant wasn’t the only one brainstorming new looks for Barbie. The Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine takes a look at the life and journey of Carol Spencer, the longest-reigning designer for the iconic toy.
  • Even after years of court cases and litigation, the feud between Mattel and MGA rages on. The Los Angeles Times reports on why Mattel continues to reject merger offers from MGA.
  • Non-compete agreements have become so rampant that some companies even make interns sign them. Suzanne Lucas, a columnist for Inc., warns that, ironically, this can affect job prospects for those interns later. 
  • Our guest, Orly Lobel, doesn’t just study toy laws. She also took on the famous non-disclosure agreements that President Trump has asked many of those around him to sign.
  • One of our former guests, Harvard historian Jill Lepore, has her own take on the Barbie court case.

intellectual property, Orly Lobel, mattel, copyright, barbie, Culture

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