Mattel Chief Executive Bob Eckert testifies in contentious Bratz doll trial
The head of the world’s largest toy company took the witness stand in federal court again on Wednesday to testify in the contentious court battle over who owns the Bratz doll line.
The copyright infringement case centers on whether Bratz maker MGA Entertainment stole the idea for the pouty-lipped, big-headed multi-ethnic girls from Mattel. The idea for the dolls was brought to MGA by creator and former Mattel employee Carter Bryant, who said he came up with the concept in Missouri when he was on a break from working; Mattel claims that Bryant came up with the idea when he was its employee. A 2008 jury in Riverside sided with Mattel and awarded $100 million in damages; an appeals court overturned that decision last year.
In his all-day testimony on Wednesday, Mattel Chief Executive Bob Eckert was cross-examined by MGA lawyer Jennifer Keller, who argued that Mattel’s Barbie brand had been suffering for years before the introduction of Bratz.
She also contended that Mattel never would have developed Bratz if creator Carter Bryant had presented his idea to the company in the first place instead of taking it to MGA and that Mattel subsequently launched doll lines to try to compete with Bratz but they all ultimately failed.
The evidence offered a rare inside look at how panicked Mattel was as it watched its premiere Barbie line swiftly eclipsed by Bratz. A 2004 internal company presentation, offered by Keller as evidence, said: “The House Is on Fire!”
“Sales at retail are terrible,” the memo said. “Market share has dropped at a chilling rate….We MUST do some things differently around here.”
The presentation continued by saying “a rival-led Barbie genocide rapidly grows” and encouraged the company to “fight fire with fire!”
“Barbie stands for good,” it said. “All others stand for evil.”
When asked about the final line, Eckert, who said he did not write the memo and called it inflammatory, said: “I would certainly want to distance myself from this language, yes.”
Also during his testimony, Eckert agreed that he thought the word “Bratz” had negative connotations, admitted that there “certainly were problems with Barbie sales unrelated to Bratz” and agreed that having a concept or a design idea didn’t translate into having a successful brand.
In the bitter fight between the two rival toy companies, one point of contention from MGA has been Eckert’s absence from court on most days. MGA’s CEO, Isaac Larian, has been present every day, often bringing members of his family.
On Tuesday, the first day Eckert took the stand, MGA pointed out the inequity.
“You know that when Mr. Larian is sitting here every single day and you are not, it looks bad to the jury, right?” Keller said.
It appeared U.S. District Judge David O. Carter would order Eckert to be present for court every day, but on Wednesday, Mattel said it would continue using a different company employee as its table representative during the trial.
-- Andrea Chang
Photo: Mattel CEO Bob Eckert. Credit: Mattel Inc.