Employment Agreements Can Make Employee’s Inventions Company Property

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July 23, 2010 by Carol Kaplan

Today, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, backed by a three-judge panel reversed Mattel Inc.’s injunction over an employment agreement that tried to cover an idea.

And what was that idea?  The Bratz Doll.  For those of you who don’t know, the Bratz Doll is a doll that was created by Carter Bryant, who formerly worked for Mattel Inc.   It has sparked a lot of controversy over the years from the way that the doll looks and dresses.  However, the Bratz Doll has become very popular among young girls and has a large market share in the doll industry.

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote that “Designs, processes, computer programs and formulae are concrete, unlike ideas, which are ephemeral and often reflect bursts of inspiration that exist only in the mind.”   The judge concluded that an idea for names of a doll “Bratz” and “Jade” may not have been assigned in Mr. Bryant’s employment agreement, but even if those names were included in the agreement, it did not allow Mattel Inc. to take the whole company.  That is where the district court was mistaken in its original decision.

This goes to the main employment issue in this case about employment agreements and what can be included in them.

I love the Barbie brand, but I think that healthy competition is good.  The Bratz Doll is now the main competitor to the Barbie Doll.  Barbie Dolls have been around for over 50 years and they are still going strong.  I do not think that they are going anywhere, anytime soon, but it is good to see new products being launched every day.


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