February 18, 2007
Disney Loses Pooh Product Name Lawsuit
Disney and the granddaughters of Pooh creators A.A. Milne and illustrator Ernest Shepard have lost a 16 year court battle against Stephen Slesinger Inc over royalties to 25 names from Winnie the Pooh. This opens the door for Slesinger’s people to sue Disney for what they perceive amounts to $2 bil worth of lost revenues over Winne the Pooh related videos and merchandise.
Disney is in the Very Messy Situation of licensing these names from Slesinger via a 76 year old agreement that might as well have been drawn up by Christopher Robin himself, who could not foresee the day when every kid's bedroom (as well as sleeping bags, pillows and pajamas) would be festooned with these characters, as well as every computer and DVD player, raking in $6 bil yearly for Disney.
I have to agree with Pribek at "Trouble Ain’t Over" that this type of situation is very un-Disney like; the company is so well known for its willingness to scrupulously protect its names and characters. While the decision has no bearing over Disney's rights to the Pooh name and those of his friends, it is A Very Sticky Business indeed.
But it is of course a lesson in protecting product names: if Disney can get stung by litigious bees, then we all have to be careful because the company has more lawyers on retainer than Pooh has honey pots.
It’s always unwise to go bouncing on to the market like Tigger without copyrighting and protecting every single name you can. The Slesinger estate is now attempting to void the trademarks on Winnie the Pooh they feel were taken illegally. This move, if successful, would be a disaster for Disney, but I think it's unlikely. I foresee some sweet stuff flowing to the Slesinger crew and Disney carrying on the Pooh legacy forever and ever.
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