In 1991, Hasbro was again in Federal Court arguing about ninja. Recall from the first ninjalaw post, that Hasbro was responsible for the first instance of ninja in the Federal Courts in 1988. Just three years later, they are back in court arguing about a license on a line of ninja action figures called Ninja Warriors.
HASBRO, INC., Plaintiff/Counterclaim-Defendant, v. CHILD’S PLAY INTERNATIONAL CORP., Defendant/Counterclaim-Plaintiff, and STUART R. ROSS, Defendant
No. 87 Civ. 4613 (WK)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
1991 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10794
Decided – August 1, 1991
Judge Knapp’s opinion begins:
In this action arising from a license to manufacture and market a line of ninja action figure toys, licensee/counterclaim-defendant Hasbro, Inc. (“Hasbro”) moves for summary judgment dismissing the amended counterclaims against it. For reasons that follow, the motion is granted.
The following facts are not in dispute. Child’s Play was at all times relevant to this action a corporation controlled and operated by its president, defendant Stuart Ross. It was formed in late 1984, primarily to develop, manufacture and distribute children’s toys. Sometime in 1985, Child’s Play acquired from a third party a line of toys consisting of seven ninja warrior human action figures, one of which rode horseback (the “Ninja Warriors” or the “Line”). Each figure had been given a name, had Asian features and dress, and was armed with an exotic weapon. [footnotes omitted]
In Footnote #4,
Based on a martial arts theme, ninja action figures are designed to be used by children in simulated battles waged with weapons such as large swords, boomerangs and lances.
By the spring of 1986, ninja action figures generally were enjoying considerable popularity in the children’s toy market. Seeking fully to capitalize on this wave of popularity, Child’s Play decided to license its Line to a toy manufacturer and marketer with expertise and financial resources greater than its own.
To this end, Child’s Play approached counterclaim-defendant Hasbro, a major developer, manufacturer and marketer of children’s toys. Although Hasbro had since 1982 included between one and four ninja action figures in its G.I. Joe action figure line, it had not yet developed its own line of action figures devoted solely to the ninja martial arts theme. Seeking to take advantage of the popularity of ninja action figures, it considered the possibility of acquiring Child’s Play’s Line.
In Footnote #6,
In the only affidavit submitted in opposition to the motion, Ross states that he was unaware that Hasbro had included ninja action figures within its G.I. Joe line. There is, however, no suggestion that that line had not been extensively advertised by Hasbro, or that the existence of ninja G.I. Joe action figures was not otherwise readily observable by anyone in the industry. Cf. Conan Properties, Inc. v. Mattel, Inc. (S.D.N.Y. 1989) 712 F. Supp. 353, 367-68.
Then the decline in ninja popularity,
Notwithstanding Hasbro’s efforts, the attention of children somehow became focused on toys other than ninja human action figures. During the fall and early winter of 1986, Hasbro’s salesmen began reporting to senior management that its retailer-customers would not be purchasing the Line because consumers had stopped buying ninja action figures manufactured by other toy companies
As a result of the disappointing response to ninja figures in general, and the Line in particular, Hasbro postponed and eventually abandoned its plan to launch a television advertising campaign.
Hasbro’s sales force already was reporting that there was great resistance from Hasbro’s retail store customers which were not placing orders for the Ninja Warriors. The Hasbro sales force was reporting that Hasbro’s customers felt that the ninja action figure fad was ending and the appeal of ninja lines of boys toy action figures was in decline as ninja lines of other manufacturers were being left on the shelves of their stores; Our customers had no capacity or disposition to take another ninja line of boys toy action figures.
there is nothing in the record to suggest that Hasbro, in continuing to produce ninja figures within its G.I. Joe line, either exceeded its rights to do so under the Agreement or did so to the detriment of the Ninja Warrior Line.
We have considered Child’s Play’s other contentions and find them to be without merit. Because we conclude that Child’s Play has failed to come forward with sufficient evidence from which a trier of fact reasonably could find that Hasbro’s efforts to promote the Line were insufficient, Hasbro’s motion for summary judgment is granted.
I wonder, did Ninja Warriors really fail because of a declining market interest? Or did Hasbro successfully kill a competing line of toys? According to the Court it was the former. But maybe it was also poor action figure quality, note the limited joint movement in the pictures below compared to GI Joe.