The feud between fashion doll giants MGA Entertainment Inc. and Mattel Inc. got another infusion of legal juice on Monday, when Bratz maker MGA sued Mattel over allegations that the Barbie maker filched trade secrets at toy industry conventions.
Van Nuys-based MGA accuses Mattel of sending corporate spies armed with fake business cards and a “how to steal” manual into private MGA showrooms from 1992 through at least 2009.
There, the agents pilfered MGA price lists, advertising plans and covert product attributes, giving El Segundo-based Mattel “an unfair and illegal advantage in the market” and costing MGA “tens of millions of dollars in damages,” according to MGA’s complaint.
In the suit, which was filed in state superior court in Los Angeles, MGA asks for up to $1 billion in damages and fees.
If there’s a sense of déjà vu, it’s because MGA made the same claims against Mattel in an earlier federal case.
In 2011, Mattel was ordered to pay $172.5 million to MGA over allegations that its rival’s employees used cover identities to infiltrate MGA strongholds at toy fairs. That year, Mattel’s claims that MGA stole the idea for the Bratz line of dolls were rejected.
But in January 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals vacated the trade secret verdict, arguing that the claims should not have been attached to the initial copyright dispute over Bratz.
It’s since become “one of the most heavily contested trade secret cases in American legal history,” according to MGA’s complaint Monday. The company said it was dredging up the accusations again because it considers last year’s dismissal to be “a technical procedural issue having nothing to do with the merits of the claims against Mattel.”
Mattel said it hopes that the conflict will be resolved quickly.
“We are confident that the same stale claims brought in MGA’s lawsuit today are barred by the statute of limitations,” said spokesman Alan Hilowitz in a statement.