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Judge Limits Mattel Suit to Selection of Bratz Dolls

(CN) - A California federal judge limited Mattel's copyright infringement claims over MGA Entertainment's Bratz doll line to four of the first-generation dolls and two newer models.

In a 117-page order, U.S. District Judge David Carter pared the claims and counter-claims between the two companies that arose from Carter Bryant's 2000 resignation from Mattel.

Mattel sued Bryant in 2004, claiming Bryant should have disclosed his concept sketches and sculpts for the Bratz dolls before taking them to MGA.

A retrial is scheduled to start next week on the case after the 9th Circuit threw out a federal jury verdict for Mattel.

In the ruling issued Dec. 27, Carter dismissed Mattel's claims against MGA for aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty, breach of fiduciary duty, and breach of duty of loyalty. He also found that MGA cannot sue Mattel for trade dress infringement, trade dress dilution and common law unfair competition.

With regard to Mattel's other claims, including copyright infringement, misappropriation of trade secrets and conversion, the judge awarded a mixed bag.

Mattel faces no small obstacle in arguing that idea for fashionable dolls with exaggerated features and big heads was unique and protectable.

"Evidence that MGA copied the unoriginal, exaggerated features found in Bryant's sketches does not establish infringement," Carter wrote.

The judge allowed Mattel to sue over the first generation Bratz line - Jade, Cloe, Yasmin and Sasha - and two newer models, Ooh La La Cloe and Formal Funk Dana.

Carter wrote that Ooh La La Cloe and Formal Funk Dana bore similarity to Mattel's sketches, as opposed to other dolls from the next generation Bratz line, such as Bratz Funk 'N' Glow Jade or Bratz Wild Wild West Fianna.

Both Mattel and Bryant failed to convince Carter of their readings of the inventions agreement Bryant signed, so the judge declined to grant summary judgment to either party on the issue.

Carter ruled that Mattel could pursue misappropriation of trade secrets claims against several others of its former employees and MGA, citing ambiguity in the contracts.

"Although Mattel conducted extensive employee training, had its employees sign agreements, and controlled access to its databases, it often provided vague direction to its employees and in many circumstances failed to mark proprietary documents, including the documents that are at issue in this case, as confidential," Carter wrote.

The judge also criticized the arguments MGA used to try and throw out Mattel's charges.

"MGA's arguments are not just procedurally defective but predicated upon a paranoid misreading of trade secret law," the ruling states. "Mattel cannot prevail on a trade secret misappropriation counter-claim predicated upon the acquisition, disclosure, or use of the Bratz concept unless it proves it owned the concept."

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