Barbie Wars & Scandals

While Barbie’s creation is often a glamorous upbeat tale, in reality Barbie’s life was full of scandals and wars. From the very beginning, the true identity of Barbie was kept under wraps, but, in 1961, the secret was exposed- Barbie was an imitation of Greiner & Hausser’s Bild-Lilli. In 1960, G&H patented Lilli’s hip joint and turning head in the United States. They gave the rights to the patent to Louis Marx, Mattel’s competitors[1].Although Barbie’s creator, Ruth, never denied her inspiration came from Bild-Lilli, she never admitted to infringing on their patent. In 1961, Greiner & Hausser sued Mattel for patent infringement of their Lilli doll, specifically the hip joint patent. By 1964 the case was dismissed, but Mattel convinced G&H to sign a contract in which they argeed to sell their patents and copyright when their contract with Marx expired in 1970. Another lawsuit was brought up in 2003 claiming the 1964 contract was nonbinding. G&H claimed that it had been induced to accept a flat fee for the 1964 licenses based on material misrepresentations by Mattel regarding the number of Barbie dolls it was selling in Germany and internationally[2].  The courts dismissed the case.

Take a look at the US patents for Jack Ryan’s Doll Construction and Greiner & Hausser’s Doll. Does this appear to be patent infringment to you?

Another more recent competitor of Barbie is MGA Entertainment’s Bratz doll, produced in 2001. These dolls were more realistic in proportion and beauty than the Barbie[3]. Girls fell in love with this doll because it was a “best friend” doll, not a “role model doll” -the type of role play girls acted out with the doll.  Mattel took MGA Entertainment to court, claiming the idea of Bratz was original a product of Mattel citing MGA Entertainment’s Bratz designer used to work for Mattel.  Mattel won in 2008, but MGA Entertainment appealed. The judge claimed that the two dolls were incredibly different in personality and look and stated that “America thrives on competition; Barbie, the all-American girl, will too”[4] . The Bratz doll had “captured about 40% of the fashion-doll market”  posing the question of howBarbie will survive[5]. In response to Bratz, Mattel created My Scene Barbie in 2002 which were more realistic dolls with larger heads, different ethnicities, and individual personalities[6] . This series of dolls were particularly important to the integration of Barbie into mass technology (computers/internet games, music, television programs) which is ultimately the reason for Barbie’s survival.

downsized_0323131017Barbie, Bratz, and Monster High Dolls[7]


The glamour of the Barbie story rests fully in the hands of her “mother”, Ruth Handler. To some, Barbie is the ultimate feminist doll because not only could Barbie be anything she wanted to be, but her “mother” was one of the most powerful business women of her time. PBS describes Ruth Handler in a series called “Who Made America” – explores the democratizers, gamblers, revolutionaries, and pioneers in America – as a gambler[8]. While her risks single-handily put Mattel and Barbie on the map, in the end, it was what forced her to resign from her own company. Her falsification of financial records between 1971-1973 led to the indictment of Ruth and three employees.  Ruth pleaded “no contest” and was sentenced to five-years probation with 2,500 hours of community service and a fine of $57,000. The scandal forced both Ruth and her husband, Elliot, to resign as owners of the Mattel.[9]

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Bratz Beat Barbie in Court,” ABC News: Nightline video, 4:46, Posted on April 21, 2011. (Accessed April 22, 2013).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Allie Townsend, “Barbie vs. Bratz: It’s a Doll-Eat-Doll World” in Time: Business & Money, Posted April 22, 2011.,8599,2067001,00.html.  (Accessed April 22, 2013).

[6] Soumodip Sarkar, “Staying Alive: Struggles in Innovation Space” in Innovation, Market Archetypes and Outcomes: An Integrated Framework (New York: Physica-Verlage, 2007), 106.

[7] Kasey Moore, “Bratz, Barbie, and Monster High.” Photograph. Fredericksburg, Va., 2013. From personal collection.

[8] PBS. “Ruth Handler: Marketing Toys” on PBS: They Made America. June 30, 2004. (Accessed April 22, 2013).

[9] Jerry Oppenheimer, Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel (Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley, 2009), 71-74.

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