Bratz trial: Carter Bryant, creator of the saucy dolls, begins testimony
The most anticipated witness in the Bratz trial took the stand Thursday for what is expected to be several days of testimony.
Carter Bryant, creator of the racy doll line, appeared in federal court in Santa Ana for the retrial of the copyright infringement dispute between toy giant Mattel Inc. and bitter rival MGA Entertainment Inc.
A major point of contention centers on precisely when and where Bryant, now 42, came up with the idea for the pouty-lipped, big-headed multi-ethnic girls. The toys exploded onto the doll stage when they were released in 2001 and damaged sales of Mattel's Barbie empire.
Bryant used to be a Barbie designer for Mattel and has contended that he came up with the idea for Bratz in 1998 when he was on a break from the company and living with his parents in Missouri. Mattel says that he came up with the idea during his second stint with the company, after he returned from Missouri, and that he violated the terms of his contract by taking the concept for the dolls to rival MGA.
During 2 1/2 hours of questioning by Mattel lawyer Bill Price on Thursday, Bryant testified about several issues, including the dates that he created the original Bratz drawings, and his contract -- or "inventions agreement" -- with Mattel.
Dressed in a light blue shirt, a green-and-blue striped tie and khakis, the slightly built Bryant appeared solemn but polite through most of his testimony, repeatedly answering Price with "I don't remember" or "I don't know." Most of the questions related to the period from 1995, when Bryant first began working for Mattel, and 2002, after the dolls had became a huge hit -- and around the time when, Mattel lawyers allege, MGA began engaging in an elaborate cover-up of the dolls' origins.
Mattel's lawyers have noted Bryant's difficulty in proving that he came up with the idea for the dolls and did drawings as early as 1998. Although several of Bryant's original Bratz drawings have his name and the year 1998 scrawled along the bottom of the pages, the lawyers pointed out that he didn't get them officially notarized until August 1999, when he was under Mattel's employ, and that "1998" could have been added any time.
Price: “It's fair to say you have no recollection of that date being put on that drawing in 1998?"
While working for Mattel, Bryant signed a contract prohibiting him from taking ideas to or working on projects that would help the company's competitors. MGA has argued that even if Bryant worked on the dolls while he was a Mattel employee, he did so in his free time, outside of work hours; Mattel lawyers have dubbed that argument the "nights and weekends" excuse.
When asked about the inventions agreement Thursday, Bryant said: “I don’t think I had a real clear concept of this contract during my employment. I don’t think it was ever explained to me fully.... I think I thought that the thoughts that I had on my own time were my thoughts and didn’t necessarily belong to anyone else.”
Price then asked Bryant if he believed that a design idea would not belong to Mattel if he came up with it at 8 p.m., after work hours, but it was related to something he worked on in the office at 4 p.m.
“I think more what I’m saying is that projects that I was working on specifically for Mattel, if I had thoughts about that after hours, that yeah that would be a Mattel thing," Bryant said. "But if I had original things that I was thinking about, that those weren't necessarily [Mattel's]."
In the hallway during a court recess, Bryant -- who has remained an elusive figure during both trials, reportedly falling out of contact with both Mattel and MGA -- said he has moved back to Missouri. An aspiring recording artist, he said he is working on a music album with his sister.
"It's time for it to be over," he said of the retrial.
On the eve of the first trial, Bryant settled with Mattel for $2 million. He is no longer a defendant in the case.
A jury in Riverside sided with Mattel in 2008, awarding the El Segundo toy giant $100 million in damages. That ruling was reversed last year by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The retrial began last week and is expected to last three to four months.
-- Andrea Chang
Photo: Two Bratz dolls. Credit: Associated Press