Clothing giant Jones Apparel Group Inc on Tuesday claimed Polo Ralph Lauren Corp is threatening to end their Lauren licensing deal at the end of this year if a separate licence agreement also ends.

The New York-based company said in a press release talks between both parties have been held for several weeks as its licence to sell Ralph-branded clothing, which generated $37 million in sales last year, will expire at the end of 2003.

Jones claims Polo Ralph Lauren said such an expiration would also cause the more lucrative Lauren-brand licence, which enjoyed sales of $548m last year, to terminate at the end of 2003 instead of 2006.

The company said that to date the two companies have not agreed on "important provisions, including the interpretation of the separate Lauren Ralph Lauren (Lauren) licence as it relates to the licence agreement for Ralph apparel".

"We disagree strongly with Polo's belief that the two licenses are linked in this way," said Jones CEO Peter Boneparth in a statement.

"While we believe that a new, long-term agreement arrived at by mutual consensus would be to the benefit of both our companies, given how well the Lauren line has performed under our stewardship, we are prepared to take all necessary steps to enforce our rights under the Lauren licence."

He later added in a conference call: "We are very interested in long term relationship with the company. We believe it would be advantageous to them to continue dialogue. ... Polo has asked for and we have agreed to a different set of economics."

He added the dispute does not relate to the Polo Jeans licence and an expiration of the Lauren and the Ralph licences would not end Jones's longer term Polo Jeans licence or affect the Polo Jeans licence in the US.