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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.

If you have any questions on the above, please do not hesitate to contact the team at McDaniels Law on 0191 281 4000 or legal@mcdanielslaw.com.

in: Case Law, Companies, Copyright, EU/International, Legal News, News, Patents

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