Ruth Handler, a co-founder of toy giant Mattel and the creator of the iconic fashion doll ‘Barbie’ has confirmed that the much-loved doll owes her existence to a 1950s German comic strip character ‘Bild Lilli’. Handler first spotted the Bild Lilli dolls whilst on a family holiday in Lucerne, Switzerland back in the 1950’s.
Following a successful pitch to her colleagues, the first Barbie doll was subsequently released by Mattel in 1959. Handler purported to have tweaked Lilli’s look, however the blonde pony-tailed figure still bore a striking resemblance to its predecessor, a point not lost on Bild Lilli’s manufacturers, Greiner & Hauser (“G&H”).
G&H filed a US patent application in 1960 for the ‘doll hip joint’ featured on the dolls and granted a 10 year exclusive licence to New York toy manufacturer Louis Marx to produce the figures. No rights were sought or obtained by Mattel. The following year G&H and Marx jointly sued Mattel for copyright and patent infringement. The matter was settled out of Court, however, Mattel expressly denied that Barbie was in fact a copy.
Mattel subsequently purchased G&H’s IP rights in Bild Lilli in 1964 and ultimately ended production of the doll. The then bankrupt G&H then sued Mattel in the early 2000s for allged fraud in relation to the 1964 agreements. G&H claimed Mattel had misrepresented the volume of sales of Barbie dolls in the 1960s in order to induce them to agree to a lower flat-rate licence as opposed to a per doll licence. G&H sought rescindment of the IP rights and damages based on a royalty per Barbie doll sold. The court dismissed the claim.
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in: Case Law, Companies, Copyright, EU/International, Legal News, News, Patents
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