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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 January, 2004, 06:05 GMT
Endgame nears in Pooh legal row
Winnie the Pooh
Winnie the Pooh is a lucrative prize
The granddaughter of author AA Milne has been denied merchandising rights to Winnie the Pooh by a US court, in the latest stage of a decade-old legal row.

The judgement will be a blow to Walt Disney, which was supporting Clare Milne in the hope of winning back the rights from the Slesinger family.

The Slesingers have the US rights to Pooh, and have accused entertainment giant Disney of withholding royalties.

The final trial in the case is now scheduled for January 2005.

Bitter battle

The struggle over Pooh has been one of the bitterest and longest-running sagas in US legal history.

The case goes back to the 1930s, when Stephen Slesinger acquired US rights to Winnie the Pooh from the author.

Disney was enlisted to market Pooh-related goods, which have ballooned into a multi-million-dollar concern spanning movies, books, toys and games and hi-tech products.

The Slesingers sued Disney in 1991, arguing that they had not been given their share of the healthy profits generated by the character,

Disney, which denies having short-changed the Slesingers, has accused the family of hiring detectives to steal company documents.

The Slesingers, meanwhile, have accused Disney of manipulating Ms Milne, who was brought into the case in 2002.

Ms Milne has agreed to continue marketing Pooh merchandise via Disney if she recaptures the rights.

The main event

The decision leaves the way finally clear for the original trial to go ahead in a year's time.

The event promises to be spectacular, gathering together some of America's highest-profile legal talent.

Top of the bill will be Johnnie Cochran, arguably the most famous lawyer in the US, who was hired last year by the Slesingers.

Mr Cochran successfully defended OJ Simpson in his murder trial.

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