There’s value in trade marks- It’s no mystery
This sensational battle of the wags saga, which has seen astonishing online revelations and court room drama (real-life and dramatised), is yet again in the news, after a company reportedly acting on behalf of Rebekah Vardy has registered the term WAGATHA CHRISTIE as a trade mark in the UK for a wide range of goods and services, including cosmetics, bags, and retail services.
A UK trade mark registration allows the owner to prevent third parties from using identical or similar trade marks in the UK, but the mark subject of the registration can also be licensed to third parties to enable them to manufacture their own goods bearing the trade mark. In this instance, it appears that Rebekah Vardy has taken action to monetise the potential revenue streams that would flow from licensed products bearing the term in the UK and carve out exclusive rights to the term.
WAGATHA CHRISTIE was originally coined by a comedian, Dan Atkinson, but he has never filed any applications to register it as a trade mark, nor used it commercially in the UK. Furthermore, the mere coining of a term such as WAGATHA CHRISTIE does not result in copyright protection, given that copyright as a literary work does not result from short combinations of words such as this. Thus, on the face of it, he would have no basis to prevent Rebekah Vardy's use and registration of WAGATHA CHRISTIE in the UK.
Having delved a little deeper, the original application also included textile goods and clothing, but it has been opposed in relation to those goods by a third party that owns a range of UK trade mark registrations for CHRISTY trade marks for identical goods. This is a useful reminder that even if a term is well known before use occurs, or an application to register it is filed, third party rights can still complicate attempts to use and register the term as a trade mark in the UK. Therefore, searches should be conducted to assess potential conflicts before use and registration commences.
It is also interesting to note that Agatha Christie Limited, which is responsible for licensing the rights to the works of Agatha Christie and owns a number of UK trade mark registrations for AGATHA CHRISTIE, including for clothing and books, has not opposed the application. The marks are highly similar to one another, and the AGATHA CHRISTIE trade mark enjoys a high level of reputation in the UK. Furthermore, there is no parody defence to trade mark use and registration that could be relied upon by Rebekah Vardy and the Applicant. However, the WAGATHA CHRISTIE application does not explicitly claim books and publications, rather a range of stationery books and related products, so potentially a decision was taken not to take issue with the application on that basis.
Finally, as the application has been filed by a third party company, reportedly on behalf of Rebekah Vardy, this serves as a reminder to any individuals acting in a similar manner to ensure that there are proper agreements in place that allow the transfer of such rights to the individual further down the line, in order to avoid situations where ownership is disputed.
The writer looks forward to the new range of WAGATHA CHRISTIE merchandise that will no doubt appear on the shelves soon.