Last month an appeals court (in Stephen Slesinger Inc. v. Disney Enterprises Inc., 2011-1593, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit) agreed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and tossed out ownership challenges to Walt Disney Co.’s trademarks covering Winnie-the-Pooh characters.
Background: This has been a decades-long conflict. A.A. Milne wrote the Pooh books and transferred merchandising rights to Stephen Slesinger in 1930. However, Disney successfully argued to a federal court in 2009 that Slesinger’s widow licensed the rights to Disney in 1961. Now, the Federal Circuit court has used that 2009 ruling to uphold USPTO’s decision to bar the Slesinger company from seeking to cancel the Pooh marks.
What was at stake? According to Ira Mayer in The Licensing Letter, Disney is the number one player in the world in character licensing, and Pooh is a billion-dollar property.