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The power of a registered trade mark

Around April this year, London Entertainment Inc Ltd, a company close to Rebekah Vardy, wife of football player Jamie Vardy, managed to register WAGATHA CHRISTIE as a trade mark for a wide range of goods and services.

It is probably not a mystery as to why Ms Vardy wants to monetise the name given that she reportedly had a £1.5m legal bill to pay arising from her dispute with Coleen Rooney in which Ms Vardy was outed as the person who leaked stories to the press.

Protection over short puns, jokes, or phrases

What makes this trade mark registration noteworthy is the lessons to be learnt about trade mark law for those not necessarily familiar with a few of the basics.

The key lesson is that trade mark law operates a “first to file” system. This means that subject to some basic requirements about registrability, if an applicant gets the application in before anyone else then they get the trade mark.

This seems particularly odd in this case because not only was the pun ‘Wagatha Christie’ used to describe Coleen Rooney as the “detective” WAG who unmasked Ms Vardy but also because it was a journalist, Dan Atkinson, who claimed to come up with the ‘Wagatha Christie’ pun in the first place. (By the way, for readers outside the UK, the term WAG was coined for the “Wives And Girlfriends” of England football players who were allowed to travel with the team when playing international football matches.)

Could Mr Atkinson have done anything to stop the registration? Not really.

While the Trade Mark Act[1] provides that the proprietor of an earlier copyright has grounds to oppose the registration of a mark, a short pun like ‘Wagatha Christie’ is unlikely to be considered a work worthy of copyright protection.

When Trade Marks meet Copyright

Even if ‘Wagatha Christie’ was protected by copyright, can two different rights (copyright and trade mark rights) over the same work belong to different persons? As the case law[2] explains, the answer is yes: different rights over the same work can belong to different owners. This is the second lesson we can take from this case: the ownership of intellectual property rights is determined by its own set of rules and so it is possible to game the system as Ms Vardy has done.

Rebekah Vardy was the first one of the “contenders” to register ‘Wagatha Christie’ over which she now has certain exclusive rights and so the only thing the other parties can now do is to wish her good luck in all her business endeavours…

Please contact Iain Connor and Lorenza Picciano, who specialise in intellectual property disputes, if you have any questions about intellectual property or brand management.

[1] s. 5(4) Trade Marks Act 1994

[2] R Griggs Group Ltd & Ors v Evans & Ors [2005] EWCA Civ 11 (25 January 2005)

This article is for general information only and does not, and is not intended, to amount to legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. If you have any questions relating to your particular circumstances, you should seek independent legal advice.

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