Man Who Says DreamWorks Stole 'Kung Fu Panda' Wins Round in Court
EXCLUSIVE: The man who is suing DreamWorks Animation claiming it stole his idea for Kung Fu Panda has won a small victory in his multi-million dollar lawsuit against the company.
Terence Dunn, a self-described "writer-producer-teacher-philosopher," filed suit in June claiming that he pitched the story of a "spiritual kung-fu fighting panda bear" to DWA execs during a series of phone conversations in Nov. 2001 but the studio passed. Months later, DWA announced it was working with Jack Black to develop Kung Fu Panda, which in 2008 grossed $632 million worldwide, launched a merchandise bonanza and spawned a sequel, due next summer.
Lawyers for both sides were in court on Thursday arguing a small but key issue. One of the challenges from the plainitiff's perspective in these idea submission cases is that you don't really know how much the damages are until you look at the studio's books. The studios, obviously, don't want that to happen, or at least they want to make you jump through hoops and spend a lot of money on lawyers to make that happen. So, like many corporate defendants in Hollywood lawsuits, DWA lawyers at Loeb & Loeb filed a motion to split (or "bifurcate") the case into separate phases of liability and damages. That would have forced Dunn to prove he was owed money before he even got to delve into the books to figure out how much that might be.
But Judge Joanne O'Donnell has issued a tentative ruling shutting down the DWA strategy and denying the motion. Now the case moves to the discovery phase, where Dunn and attorney Glen Kulik will attempt to gather internal DWA documents about boxoffice gross, DVD and merchandise revenue to help support their claims that the studio made millions from Dunn's ideas. They're also trying to prove the studio had access to Dunn's ideas (he claims he created "Zen-Bear" years before Panda) in advance of developing the movie.
Depositions, including those of Lance Young and Michael Lachance, the DWA execs who were allegedly communicating with Dunn, are expected to take place in January. A trial date is scheduled for next year.