08 August 2011

Biggest Attorneys' Fee Award Ever?

Mattel asserted a copyright claim that was stunning in scope and unreasonable in the relief it requested. . . . MGA’s successful defense ensured that well-resourced plaintiffs cannot bend the law to suit their pecuniary interests. For these reasons, and pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 505, the Court awards MGA $105,688,073.00 in attorneys’ fees and $31,677,104.00 in costs.

From here.

The issue at trial regarding the question of whether an MGA line of fashion dolls similar to those of Mattel were copyright infringing, when the line of dolls was invented by a Mattel employee, arguably on his own time, who took the idea to MGA that invested in it and made it a great success through their marketing efforts.

I simply cannot fathom how either side could run up that amount of attorneys' fees in a single copyright infringement case. Actually, I can. I'm sure that a huge amount of money was spent on discovery and expert witness fees. But, there is no way it would have had to cost that much if the case management had been better.

This is a case where the big picture conceptual issues on how the idea was developed and how similar it was to the Mattel idea dwarf the fact intensive details when it comes to liability and where both parties would have had sophisticated managerial accounting systems that would have made damages relatively workable to discern in great detail.

This is a case that could have been litigated quite adequately between two less flush parties for hundreds of thousands of dollars each, instead of hundreds of millions.

Mattel asked for $1 billion in damages but was awarded about $10 million by a jury. The judgment was reversed on an interlocatory appeal and they ended up losing the case.

I don't have great sympathy for either party in this case, and the 10th Circuit's contract interpretation that was central to a defeat for Mattel was somewhat strained. But, it is a symptom of a grossly flawed court process that it is possible to reasonably spend that kind of money on this kind of case.

No comments: