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Bratz get busted

In a ruling that every entrepreneur in product development should take note of, a judge formally stripped MGA Entertainment of all rights to the Bratz doll it developed many years ago. For those of you not familiar with the tweeny-teeny dolls who make Britney, Lindsey, and Paris look like nuns with multiple doctorates, MGA was a small but profitable little company in Van Nuys that suddenly abacadabra’d itself a miniature mint with its disturbingly sexualized cross between Strawberry Shortcakes and Anna Nicole-Smith.

MGA can no longer make or license Bratz dolls. The judge has given sole ownership of the property to Mattel. Why: the original designer, Carter Bryant, was under contract with Mattel when he took the design to MGA. Although he developed the dolls “on his own time,” his contract stipulated that any product he developed, even on his own, would belong to Mattel.

The takeaway is obvious.

If you’re starting up a new product or venture and you’re currently employed, look very closely at your employment agreements. When I was faculty first at Stanford and then Washington State University, both claimed partial rights to any intellectual property I might produce. Even if it was on my own time and in a different field. You may be under the same obligation with your employer.

I know Isaac Larian in passing and did some work for MGA many moons ago; this botch-up with Bryant and Mattel could spell the end of MGA:

“Without the Bratz revenues, [MGA's] in serious trouble,” said Jim Silver, toy industry expert/editor-in-chief of Timetoplaymag.com. “If you take away the Little Tikes part of the business [which MGA acquired from Rubbermaid in 2006], Bratz probably counted for 80% of their revenue.”

It’s a shame. While I would buy a child a chainsaw before ever buying them Bratz dolls, which I think are more suitable as stocking stuffers, say, for the registered sex offender living down the street, MGA has done some wonderful things with their other lines, especially Little Tikes, which I regard as some of the best children’s products on the market.

I can say from insider knowledge that Larian made a huge mistake about three years ago when he categorically shut the door on adding any new properties to the line. He had a couple talented, highly energetic executives out there looking for new properties and he basically shut them down.

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