FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) _ Etiquette expert Dorothea Johnson devised a cat puppet to teach children to mind their P's and Q's, but a rival manners maven won legal rights to it Tuesday because Ms. Johnson didn't dot her I's and cross her T's.

A judge ruled that ``Eticat'' was Ms. Johnson's idea in 1993, but she didn't treat her creation as a confidential matter so she can't block former aide Geraldine Hathaway Wright from obtaining a trademark.

For nearly four years, the women have been locked in a most uncivil legal tiff over rights to the puppet. The cat fight began in earnest after Ms. Wright left Ms. Johnson's Protocol School in 1994.

The next year, Ms. Wright tried to register Eticat with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Ms. Johnson found out and filed her own trademark application for ``Catherine the Eticat.''

Ms. Johnson testified in a trial last month that she named the puppet after her niece's beloved pet.

Ms. Johnson sued Ms. Wright in November 1996, claiming she swiped the puppet idea and used it to start a rival business schooling children in the finer points of polite society. Ms. Johnson sought to bar Ms. Wright from using the Eticat name and asked for up to $10,000 in damages.

``My purple yarn Eticat and I are just having a ball,'' Ms. Wright said of the ruling. ``I just want to get on with life. This has taken several years and I am a senior citizen.''

Both trademark applications were on hold during the lawsuit, but now Ms. Wright is free to obtain the trademark.

Ms. Johnson, a consultant to the American diplomatic corps, declined to comment on the ruling.

Her attorney, Michael Klisch, said even though the court ruled that Ms. Wright was entitled to the trademark, Ms. Johnson felt vindicated that the judge ruled she was the first to create Eticat.

He said he and Ms. Johnson are still evaluating the handwritten, two-page ruling and have not decided whether to appeal.

``We look at it from the standpoint that a former agent of my client took my client's idea and, at a minimum, that's not good etiquette,'' Klisch said.