A Drama in 3 Chapters
What is the value in creating intellectual property? Sometimes something that seems simple, like a toy, can take on a life of its own. Who knew that a toy created in the late 1950s would still be around today? Beyond that, who knew a toy would propel a toy company into being the second largest toy maker in revenue today?
The Barbie brand has grown to be one of the largest, most recognizable pieces of intellectual property in the toy industry. With this sort of brand cache, Mattel looks to expand the brand even further with the release of its upcoming movie. With the amount of brand equity Barbie is able to capture, it’s not surprising that there are probably loads of brand collaboration agreements to leverage the use of the brand and drive it further than it has before. Much like anything else, this is the culmination of a famous brand to get even more exposure – so many people are likely to draw a connection to the doll despite not owning one themselves or purchasing products that are unrelated. The latest pre-awareness bid for Mattel: a live-action movie!
Of course, like some of the largest pieces of intellectual property, the entire history is filled with twists and turns, some of which may or may not be true. Barbie, for example, allegedly started as an idea after Ruth Handler watched her daughter Barbara Handler playing with paper dolls and dressing them. At the time, most dolls were babies or small children instead of being adults. Identifying a niche, Ruth created Barbie (named after her daughter), an adult doll that could be dressed. Or…is that really how it all started?
Barbie’s German Ancestry: Too Close for Inspiration?
The original story is that Ruth was inspired watching her daughter play with dolls. While visiting Europe, Ruth discovered the Bild-Lilli doll and brought it back to the United States for Mattel to design their own. The question is, was Barbie too inspired by the Bild-Lilli doll?
Greiner & Hausser, the originator of the Bild-Lilli doll, would argue yes…and has, in court, multiple times. Greiner & Hausser (G&H) brought multiple claims in court, challenging Mattel and questioning how Barbie came to be. In 1964, one case settled out of court, with Mattel buying the patent rights. Later, G&H argued, again in court that the 1964 negotiations around the sale agreement amounted to fraud.
Some of the G&H patent rights stem from U.S. patent number 2,925,684, filed in 1956 and issued in 1960, titled “Doll.” The entire patent revolves around a seemingly simple hip joint that allows the legs to extend forward without having to splay out when rotated. This happened to be one of the distinguishing features of both the Bild-Lilli doll and the Barbie doll.