A jury will be allowed to hear evidence that Mattel Inc. lawyers say will show that a former employee tampered with computer files to hide work he did for a competitor on the Bratz doll concept.
U.S. District Judge Stephen Larson ruled Tuesday that the jury could hear Mattel's allegation that former employee Carter Bryant used a program called "Evidence Eliminator" to scramble file names before turning his computer over to lawyers in 2004.
Mattel has sued MGA Entertainment Inc. saying it owns the rights to the popular, pouty-lipped fashion dolls because Bryant created the concept while employed at Mattel.
"Who goes out and buys something called 'Evidence Eliminator' at this time period?" Larson asked while making the ruling.
MGA lawyer Raoul Kennedy said Bryant used the program to get rid of computer "pop-ups," some of which were sexually explicit.
"He's concerned others might want to use the computer," Kennedy said.
Mattel contends Bryant was actively working on the doll line and first showed his sketches to MGA in September 2000 -- before he left Mattel.
MGA said it didn't start work on Bratz until after Bryant left the company that October.
Barbie sales have slid since the Bratz line hit store shelves in 2001.
If jurors find that Mattel's rights were infringed, the toymaker could collect hundreds of millions of dollars in licensing fees from MGA.
Mattel has reached a confidential settlement with Bryant and dropped its lawsuit against him. He is expected to testify at the trial.
Los Angeles-based MGA has denied the allegations and countersued, saying Mattel changed the design of its own "My Scene" dolls to more closely resemble the Bratz line and used its leverage with retailers to stifle competition.
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