The $33 billion toy business relies on intellectual property, whether that means licensing agreements for big-screen movie characters or an obscure inventor’s idea for the next Rubik’s Cube.
Unfortunately, where there is intellectual property, there are also disputes over who owns it and how much it is worth. Intensity’s new managing director, Jennifer Vanderhart, brings years of experience in the trenches of the toy wars to evaluate claims over misappropriated intellectual property, contract disputes, and the true value of this season’s must-have plaything.
“I find the toy industry to be both fun and dynamic. It routinely offers me the opportunity to bring a strong economic perspective to complex disputes. I am excited to work with Intensity’s team of highly skilled economists and to continue to grow Intensity’s presence in the industry.”
— Dr. Jennifer Vanderhart
A Ph.D. economist who studied and taught at Texas A&M, Dr. Vanderhart has more than 20 years’ experience evaluating economic damages as well as helping clients negotiate license and royalty agreements. These agreements are crucial in the toy industry, which depends on a constant flow of new ideas to entice children with the next generation of Nerf Blasters, Play-Doh, and Rainbow Looms.
Much of the content the toy industry depends upon comes from film studios and publishers who license their characters to toymakers in exchange for royalty revenue. Sometimes there are disagreements over this valuable intellectual property, leading to disputes like when Hasbro sued DC Comics to block sales of Mattel dolls and Lego sets featuring an action figure named Bumblebee.
Both companies claimed rights to the name, DC Comics having called a female superhero Bumblebee starting in 1976 and Hasbro having created a Transformers character named Bumblebee and trademarked the name for use in consumer goods in 2015. The Hasbro toy line spawned a multibillion-dollar movie franchise, with one of the most popular being Michael Bay’s Bumblebee released in December 2018.
The Hasbro/DC Comics case ultimately settled, but expert opinions were critical both in pretrial preparation and in settlement negotiations as the companies fought over who owned the intellectual property at the heart of the dispute and what it was worth.
Big toy manufacturers also face frequent challenges from inventors who submit ideas by the thousands, hoping that they have come up with the next Monopoly, Slinky, or Super Soaker. While the toy industry relies on these outside inventors for many of their successful products, manufacturers also must defend themselves against lawsuits over ideas they had already independently developed.
With expertise in applied econometrics and microeconomic analysis, Dr. Vanderhart has helped clients determine the value of the intellectual property embodied in a toy. Disputes over royalty payments, inventor claims, patent disputes, and copyright violations, among others, require detailed economic calculations to determine the correct amount of damages.
The toy business is highly seasonal and often driven by short-term trends, complicating the task of estimating how many units will sell or what a licensing agreement is worth. For every Monopoly offering a seemingly endless stream of annuity payments, there are hundreds of Pet Rocks that soon will be worth less than the cost of shipping.
Expert economists must consider these and other factors before providing an opinion about the value of the intellectual property underlying a disputed toy or toy idea.
Before joining Intensity, Dr. Vanderhart founded and led the IP Practice at Analytics Research Group. She has also held positions at several economic consulting firms and was an instructor at Texas A&M University in the Economics and Management departments. She has published on the subjects of valuation, damages, and intellectual property and frequently speaks on these topics at conferences and lectures. Her diverse client list has included Hasbro, American Mensa, Tristar Products, Under Armour, Samsung, Barilla, and others.
Dr. Vanderhart is a member of the American Economic Association, the American Society of International Law, and the Licensing Executives Society of which she is vice-chair for the D.C. Chapter. She is also an associate member of the American Bar Association, where she chairs the Intellectual Property Litigation subcommittee of the Commercial and Business Litigation Committee.