Bratz designer erased computer files: lawyers
RIVERSIDE, California |
RIVERSIDE, California (Reuters) - A jury will learn that the creator of the popular Bratz doll erased files from his computer two days before handing it over as evidence in a federal trademark infringement lawsuit filed by Mattel Inc MAT.N, a judge in California ruled on Tuesday.
Mattel has sued family-owned MGA, claiming it owns the original Bratz concept drawings and that doll's creator, Carter Bryant made them and other Bratz drawings and models while he was under contract to Mattel as a Barbie designer.
Mattel contends that MGA poached Bryant to shore up sagging toy offerings, then tried to hide the connection when Bratz became a runaway hit in 2001.
At a hearing before testimony began on Tuesday, lawyers for both sides said Bryant had erased files, but they disagreed what he intended to erase.
U.S. District Judge Stephen Larson said the fact that Bryant used a program called Evidence Eliminator on his computer a few months after Mattel sued him and Bratz maker MGA Entertainment Inc in 2004 "is relevant to his credibility as a witness" in the trial now under way in Riverside, Calif.
Defense attorneys for MGA, which is battling to keep its rights to the urban chic dolls, contended that Bryant had merely intended to erase sexually explicit pop up ads.
The lost files possibly included documents relevant to the case, such as emails or drawings, Mattel attorneys said.
The program, sold as a security utility, touts "secure deletion processes similar to US Government Military Standards," according to its Web advertisements.
Mattel reached a confidential settlement with Bryant before the trial started on May 27. Bryant is expected to testify later this week.
Also on Tuesday, MGA founder and Chief Executive Isaac Larian spent his third day on the witness stand explaining, under questioning from his company's attorney, what Mattel had portrayed as attempts to hide Bryant's involvement with Bratz.
Larian has characterized the lawsuit as a "David versus Goliath" battle, and has repeatedly denied on the witness stand that he intentionally tried to hide Bryant's identity.
He testified on Tuesday that MGA had conversations with Mattel representatives about the bigger company licensing and distributing the soon-to-be launched Bratz in February of 2001.
And MGA attorney Thomas Nolan pointed out a 2003 Wall Street Journal article, in which Larian credits Bryant, "a former member of the Barbie team," with creating Bratz.
That article came about five months after an email to Larian in which an MGA executive remarks that the company "wants to keep Carter under wraps."
Larian testified, however, that he had already received a cease and desist letter from Mattel over a Bratz fan site and feared the success of his pouty-lipped, big headed doll line would draw his larger rival's ire.
"Mattel had sued literally anybody who got into the fashion doll business," he said.
He advised his sales staff in a June 2001 email that "MGA has full, free and clear rights to Bratz trademark and Bratz dolls. I have been advised that Mattel is spreading rumors that there are legal issues regarding Bratz. This is untrue."
(Reporting by Gina Keating; editing by Carol Bishopric)
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