RIVERSIDE, Calif., June 13 (Reuters) - Lawyers for Mattel Inc MAT.N challenged the creator of Bratz dolls on Friday on his claims about how and when he thought up the idea for Barbie’s rival in a federal trial in California over ownership of the billion-dollar franchise.
Mattel has sued Bratz maker MGA Entertainment Inc over rights to the original drawings for the dolls and other drawings and models that Mattel says Bryant made while he worked at its Southern California design studio.
Carter Bryant, 39, said he was struck with the initial inspiration that later evolved into the big-headed, pouty-lipped dolls with urban chic fashions after driving by a rural Missouri high school in Springfield, Missouri, in 1998.
Bryant also testified on Friday that he did not recall running a program called Evidence Eliminator on his laptop computer two days before it was to be imaged in 2004 as evidence in the trial, now under way in Riverside, California. Bryant said he bought the program in 2002 and hoped it would erase adult content and pop up advertising from his computer.
“What I remember thinking it was doing was eliminating my Internet search histories and things like that,” Bryant said. “I was thinking of finding something to make my computer run faster, erase my Internet search history, block pop ups.”
Bryant said he did not know the program would overwrite files on the machine’s hard drive so they could not be recovered.
Bryant signed two separate employment agreements giving Mattel rights to everything he invented while he worked as a Barbie designer from 1995 through 1998 and from 1999 through 2000. He and MGA say he made the first Bratz drawings in 1998.
MGA launched the Bratz dolls in 2001 to phenomenal success with young girls who are Barbie’s target market. MGA said last year that Bratz had reached $1 billion in retail sales. At the same time, Barbie sales have dropped.
Bryant had taken a leave of absence from his job at Mattel as a Barbie designer in 1998 to try to launch a freelance design career from his parents’ home in a nearby Missouri town
“...TANK TOPS AND T-SHIRTS...”
He testified that he was driving by the high school on his way home from a job at an Old Navy store at a Springfield mall when he saw students hanging around Kickapoo High School.
“They had ... little tank tops and T-shirts and sweatshirts and things like that ... baggy pants,” Bryant testified under questioning from Mattel’s lawyer William Price.
Price showed jurors photos of the rural, mostly white high school, and asked Bryant whether the Kickapoo students inspired his idea for the four multi-ethnic Bratz dolls.
“I don’t remember the multi-ethnic thing being something that struck me,” Bryant said.
Price also showed the Riverside federal jury three drawings on notebook paper of girls in urban high school type fashions — baggy jeans, blocky shoes, midriff-baring shirts — that Bryant said he made shortly after he was struck by the students’ fashions in 1998.
Price pointed out that a notebook Bryant used for drawing and note-taking — and that was missing a number of pages similar to those upon which he had made the original drawings — contained a handwritten list of bank deposits that appeared to match a list from Bryant’s 1999 bank statement.
The spiral-bound notebook also contained drawings of an Angel Barbie and Jewel Barbie, characters that Bryant had earlier testified he had worked on during his second stint at Mattel from January of 1999 to October of 2000.
Bryant said on Friday that he also worked on an Angel project in 1998, and that he did not keep his notebooks in “any kind of chronological order.”
Bryant is scheduled to continue testifying on Tuesday. (Reporting by Gina Keating; Editing by Carol Bishopric)