Thursday, August 21, 2008

Design Wales discusses the recent Barbie v Bratz case

Although this IP news item is a month old now, it’s such a good story from an IP ownership and employment contract perspective that we had to include it.

Most designers are aware that the work they create during the course of employment usually belongs to their employer; but what about the designs they create in their own time? Can their employer also claim ownership of these works? A Californian court hearing the Barbie (Mattel, Inc.) v Bratz (MGA Entertainment, Inc.) case believed that this is exactly what an employer could do.

Mattel ex-employee Carter Bryant claimed he created the Bratz doll whilst on a leave of absence from the toy giant. Bryant briefly returned to Mattel after this break, eventually leaving to go and work for MGA. Shortly after starting his employment there, MGA launched the Bratz range of dolls. Mattel took umbrage at this, insisting that Bryant was still an employee of Mattel when he created the drawings for the Bratz dolls. Mattel consequently initiated legal proceedings against both Bryant and MGA for breach of contract and copyright infringement.

Although it was a victory for Mattel, the case was not as straightforward as it first appeared. As reported by LexisNexis, Bryant was still under contract when he created the drawings of the Bratz dolls, even though he was on leave of absence. It also appears that he deleted computer files before submitting the computer as evidence.

From an employer’s perspective this is an interesting case because it emphasises the importance of including IP clauses in contracts.

The BBC’s report on the case can be found here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Star Wars - Design Wales highlights the problems of relying on copyright to protect designs

We’re often asked how designs can be protected; unfortunately the answer to such a pertinent question is not always straightforward. A common misconception is that all designs can be protected by copyright; this isn’t the case as the recent Lucasfilm v Andrew Ainsworth case illustrates.

Andrew Ainsworth a prop designer based in Twickenham, was said to have infringed the copyright of Lucasfilm by selling replicas of the Imperial Stormtroopers’ armour and helmet. Ainsworth, who was commissioned by Lucasfilm to create the armour and helmet for the initial Star Wars film released in 1977, used the original moulds to make the alleged infringing articles. By making a replica of the helmet, Lucasfilm claimed that Ainsworth had infringed the copyright in the design drawings of the helmet. The judge hearing the case disagreed, explaining that if the helmet was to be protected by copyright, it would have to be regarded as a sculpture or a work of artistic craftsmanship and not as an artistic work which the design drawings would be considered as. The judge concluded that since the helmet was a prop, it could not be regarded as a sculpture or a work of artistic craftsmanship, ruling that copyright had not been infringed.

Admittedly this is a complicated case, but if there is a moral to this tale it is this - before taking legal action against a third party that you feel has infringed the copyright in your designs, make sure that copyright subsists; otherwise it could be a very expensive lesson in copyright law.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Design Wales Discusses the Olympic Torch

The Olympic torch has caused much controversy during its journey in 2008. Named the 'Cloud of Promise', this year's torch was created by Chinese PC manufacturer Lenovo.

Symbolic of freedom, youth and unity, the Olympic torch has had many redesigns over the years, testing creative prowess in the way the games test physical prowess...