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.