Jury Sides With DreamWorks Animation in 'Kung Fu Panda' Case (Exclusive)

Writer Terence Dunn claimed the studio stole his pitch for a “spiritual kung-fu fighting panda bear.”

A Los Angeles jury has sided with DreamWorks Animation in a big lawsuit claiming the idea for the hit Kung Fu Panda movies was stolen from a man who pitched the studio months before it began developing the project without him.

Terence Dunn, a self-described “writer-producer-teacher-philospher” who was CEO of a company called Zen-Bear Inc., sued in June 2010 for breach of an implied contract, alleging that he brought the idea of a “spiritual kung-fu fighting panda bear” to a DreamWorks executive in November 2001 with the expectation that he’d be included in any film project. Dunn alleged that his kung-fu bear was "adopted by five animal friends in the forest (a tiger, a leopard, a dragon, a snake and a crane), whose destiny is foretold by an old and wise sage, Turquoise Tortoise, and who comes of age and fulfills his destiny as a martial arts hero and spiritual avatar."

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Dunn claimed in the suit that he had several conversations with the studio before it passed on his pitch and began pursuing its “substantially similar” Kung Fu Panda movie in 2002 with original screenwriters Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris. The film, starring the voice of Jack Black, went on to gross more than $630 million worldwide in 2008 and spawn a successful sequel, released earlier this summer.

At one point, Dunn claimed he was entitled to a percentage of the hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from the films. The damages discussion sealed from public view at DreamWorks' request. The case then survived a DreamWorks summary judgment motion and made it all the way to a two-week jury trial, which featured testimony from DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, among others.

The jury took about three days to reach a verdict in favor of the studio. The jurors decided that DWA and its executives did enter into an implied-in-fact contract, but the panel found that the studio didn't use Dunn's ideas, so the question of damages was moot. DWA was represented by Jonathan Zavin and Dave Grossman of Loeb & Loeb. Dunn’s case was tried by  Theresa  Macellaro and Bonnie Chermak after his original attorney, Glen Kulik, dropped out earlier this year.

"We intend to appeal this decision," Macellaro tells us. "We feel quite confident in the appeal." DreamWorks Animation was not immediately available for comment. UPDATE: DWA sends us the following comment: “We are pleased with the decision of the jury, which supports our position that this was a baseless lawsuit.”

The Dunn case isn’t DWA’s only Kung Fu Panda legal headache. An artist named Jayme Gordon yesterday sued in February alleging that DreamWorks and distributor Paramount copied the artwork for the film from Gordon's copyrighted works, collectively titled "Kung Fu Panda Power."

Email: Matthew.Belloni@thr.com