* MGA Entertainment awarded $88.5 mln over Bratz secrets
* Verdict follows retrial over ownership of Bratz doll
* Mattel did not prove it owns Bratz -jury
* Mattel will seek a new trial-lawyer
(Adds further Mattel comment, outside legal analysis)
By Nichola Groom
SANTA ANA, Calif., April 21 Mattel Inc (MAT.O),
after waging a seven-year legal war against a tiny California
company, suffered a surprise defeat on Thursday after a U.S.
jury decided that MGA Entertainment Inc is the rightful owner
of the once-billion dollar line of pouty-lipped Bratz dolls.
The astonishing loss for the world's largest toy maker is
the latest development in a case that began in 2004, when MGA's
line of dolls was all the rage among young girls. Mattel
accused Van Nuys, California-based MGA of stealing its designs
by hiring away a key employee.
Mattel CEO Robert Eckert sat stone-faced, staring straight
ahead as the verdict was read on Thursday in a Santa Ana,
California, federal courtroom. He said afterward that he was
"We remain committed to protecting the intellectual
property that is at the heart of business success," Eckert said
in an email.
Mattel will soon file a motion for a new trial, said Susan
Estrich, a lawyer for the company.
MGA Chief Executive Isaac Larian, meanwhile, said the case
has been a prolonged battle for his family. Larian, who left
Iran alone at the age of 17, named two of the Bratz dolls after
"It very well shows that in America, even huge corporations
are not above the law," Larian told Reuters afterward.
A federal jury in 2008 ordered MGA and Larian to pay Mattel
$100 million, but a federal appeals court threw out that
verdict last year.
MGA then accused Mattel of gaining entry to toy fairs with
false credentials to steal trade secrets and concealed evidence
of these activities.
Jack Lerner, a professor at USC Gould School of Law who has
followed the case, said this new evidence allowed MGA to
present a "large canvas" to the jury on retrial, whereas the
first trial was more circumscribed.
The jury found Mattel misappropriated trade secrets from
MGA and awarded MGA $88.5 million in damages. The jury found
that Mattel acted willfully, and after the verdict MGA
attorneys said they would seek to triple the damages award.
The jury also decided MGA had interfered with Mattel's
contract with designer Carter Bryant, but awarded only $10,000
in damages to Mattel.
BMO Capital Markets analyst Gerrick Johnson said the
failure to settle will go down as a "tremendously bad decision"
by Mattel management.
"It means they wasted $400 million or so of shareholder
money to get zero return," Johnson said.
At the height of its popularity, in 2005 and 2006, the
urban-chic Bratz dolls -- sporting short skirts and flirty,
midriff-baring tops -- ate into Mattel's market share and were
viewed as a threat to Mattel's key Barbie franchise.
The craze died down, however. MGA has accused Mattel of
costing the company hundreds of millions in litigation.
U.S. District Judge David Carter said the trade secrets
damages could be lowered to $88.4 million due to a calculation
mistake by the jury.
Mattel's shares fell as much as 2.8 percent to a low of
$26.17 after the verdict was announced, before bouncing back
slightly to close one percent lower at $26.67. The stock had
been roughly flat throughout the morning session.
The next court hearing has been set for May 24.
"This is not the final word in this case," Estrich said.
The case in U.S. District Court, Central District of
California is Mattel Inc. v. MGA Entertainment Inc., 04-9049.
(Reporting by Nichola Groom and Dhanya Skariachan; Writing by
Dan Levine; Editing by Maureen Bavdek, Gerald E. McCormick,
Matthew Lewis and Bernard Orr)