May 29, 2008 — -- Clinton vs. Obama it may not be, but the battle of Barbie vs. Bratz is a showdown that could net hundreds of millions of dollars for the world's largest toy maker.
Mattel Inc.'s iconic blond doll is going toe-to-toe with its heavily made-up, pouty-lipped competitor because the company claims MGA Entertainment Inc., which makes the popular Bratz dolls, never had the right to the toys.
The El Segundo, Calif.-based company said Carter Bryant, the man who designed the nine-inch Bratz dolls, worked at Mattel when he came up with the concept, and therefore it owns the dolls because Carter signed an agreement that gave Mattel the right to anything he designed while employed.
"This explains how a small company that never designed a fashion doll … was able in a short period of time to come up with a doll that became a global hit," Mattel attorney John Quinn told jurors during his opening statement in the federal copyright infringement trial Tuesday.
But Los Angeles-based MGA didn't lie down for the buxom blonde and countersued Mattel — guaranteeing the doll brawl would continue.
MGA claims Mattel changed the design of its "My Scene" dolls to more closely resemble Bratz dolls, while using its leverage with retailers to stifle competition.
Mattel also sued Bryant, who worked for the company between September 1995 and April 1998 and then returned in January 1999 until October 2000 —. Mattel settled with the former employee last week for undisclosed terms.
The courtroom battle between the two toy giants mirrors the ones occurring on store shelves since the Bratz dolls arrived on the scene in 2001.
The edgier Bratz dolls have been breathing down Barbie's lanky plastic neck ever since. In fact, this year alone Barbie's sales dropped 12 percent in the first quarter.
Last month, Mattel actually cited the Bratz litigation as part of the reason for its $46.6 million first-quarter loss.
Bitterness between the companies was apparent in 2004 when Mattel originally filed the lawsuit.
"Ken is not going to save Barbie. Barbie is not going to save Barbie," said MGA CEO Isaac Larian said at the time. "It's time for her to retire. She has been around for too long."
"[We] will help her retire. I would throw a party for her," he added.
Mattel answered back.
"He's welcome to throw a party for Barbie any time he wants, but it won't be a retirement party," said Mattel Girl Products senior vice president Chuck Scothon.
While Barbie and Bratz battle it out for the top spot, some of their customers find the entire debate disturbing.
"It's a stupid fight because it is just over dolls," one young girl said.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this story.