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California Judge Rejects Disney Claim to Winnie the Pooh

A federal judge in Los Angeles rejected an attempt by the Walt Disney Co. to strip rights to the Winnie the Pooh character from the estate of long-time Pooh licensee Stephen Slesinger, according to court documents.

New York literary agent Stephen Slesinger acquired the Pooh merchandising rights from author A.A. Milne in 1930. After Slesinger died, his widow struck a deal with Disney in 1961 to merchandise Pooh and his friends in exchange for royalties.

U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper issued a written order on Feb. 15, 2007, granting the Slesingers' motion to dismiss the case, in which the granddaughters of Pooh author A.A. Milne and illustrator E.H. Shepard, sued to terminate the Slesingers' rights to the character and reassign them to Disney.

Disney was not a party to the case, but the company paid legal expenses for both women, according to Disney's attorney Daniel Petrocelli.

Petrocelli said the ruling, "has no bearing whatsoever on Disney's rights to Pooh," nor on a 2004 California state court judgment dismissing the Slesingers' long-standing royalty claims against Disney.

Slesinger's heirs have been battling Disney in California state court over what they claim are billions in unpaid royalties from Pooh, which generated more than $6 billion in retail sales in 2005.

The Slesingers last month also filed a claim with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, seeking to cancel a number of trademarks they claim Disney illegally took out on Pooh.