WAGathon…and on and on…

 In news

As catfights go, it was a belter. In the 70’s, all good U.S. detective series had “Special Guest Stars”. We had that here, in the form of their inflated pig’s bladder-chasing footie-legend husbands. Alas, there was not to be a For a Few Dollars More final duel scene between the chaps. “When the chimes end, pick up your gun”. Wayne’s Van Cleef to Jamie’s Volonte. Let’s face it, that’s the denouement everybody wanted.

But, hey, there was a judge – sans pointy-star badge – and a decision. It wasn’t without its own theatre. Mrs Rooney won, and Mrs Vardy lost. Vardy being asked to pay 90% of Rooney’s legal costs reckoned to be up to £1.5m. So, no physical beatings for the baying masses to film on their iPhones, rather more of a subtle ‘whodunnit’. Who said what to whom and when, who leaked what, what happened to the missing evidence, some fancy online sleuthing by the defendant…and so on. Hence the media moniker pun of the “Wagatha Christie” trial.

It so gripped the nation it was turned into a TV documentary, a TV drama and a play of the same name showing…er…around about now, at The Ambassador’s Theatre in London. If you’re interested, tickets are probably still available. If not in London, then elsewhere, on the play’s UK tour. I kid you not.

Just when you thought no more attention-seeking could be wrung out of this spat, Rebekah Vardy trademarks the phrase “Wagatha Christie”. The application was filed last August and added to the list of registered trademarks in early April this year. It covers a wide range (as these trademark applications often do) including:

  • Broadcasting
  • Beauty lotions
  • Make up
  • Drinks
  • Stationery
  • Jewellery, and
  • Fashion design

Will the real WAG please stand up?

In this case, that would be Dan Atkinson comedian and writer for The Guardian who claims to have created the pun some three and half years ago when all of this kicked off. As he readily and wittily concedes, the joke may well be on him.

Quite a few IP issues to unpack here. Let’s try.

Firstly, the irony that Atkinson’s joke was aimed at Coleen Rooney for her stealthy, sleuthing entrapment antics. As he says:

“…my stupefaction [at the trademarking] was mixed with unexpected admiration for the sheer chutzpah of Mrs Vardy: not only did she lose the court case, the joke wasn’t even about her!”

This may be so, but it serves as no legal impediment to Vardy’s ability to file for a trademark.

What about Atkinson, surely, he owns the phrase? As any intellectual property lawyer will tell you, Vardy did not have to create the phrase to trademark it. Again, nothing to see here.

No pun intended

You can trademark anything that doesn’t have a copyright. It’s possible that Atkinson holds copyright over the phrase. It’s also probable he doesn’t, as it’s such a short phrase.

Copyright doesn’t favour short phrases.

Firstly, it’s fair to say copyright views short phrases with deep suspicion. In simple terms this is because they’re so easily severable from a larger piece of work and commonly thieved. Plucked out of context and regurgitated in other literary, musical, or artistic works.

Secondly, phrases are considered as common idioms of the English language and are therefore free to all. Granting a monopoly would, as one 1967 IP trial opined, eventually “checkmate the public”.

It could take an age, an optimistic lawyer and very deep pockets for Mr Atkinson to challenge Vardy on this one. It’s not a likely challenge. Comedy is his schtick and the phrase his gift to us – but so it seems, it is also a gift to Mrs Vardy. Not the intention of this particular pun. In typical humour Atkinson sums up his reluctance to take the case to Vardy:

“…I’ll end up embroiled in a glutenous legal morass about the semantics of a stupid pun, and in 10 years…the children [will] ask “Why do we live in a tent?”

When the fog or war lifts –behold, a brand emerges

Vardy is being savvy then. She may now turn the phrase into a brand and cash in, in theory commanding a fee from anyone who uses the term. At this point, sharp readers will have observed the very limited citation of the phrase in this text! Lawyers such as Tim Carter from the firm Addleshaw Goddard have cautioned that Vardy could now stop third parties from using the phrase and could obtain damages from those who infringe the trademark:

“I think it would be fair to say that Rebekah Vardy could make a substantial amount of money from this trademark.”

Is it wild speculation that her initial target earnings for this trademark is around £1.5m? Hmmm, maybe. Wagatha-branded merch’ could fly off the shelves and surprise us all. Maybe not.

Play on words

And what about the play Vardy v Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial. The producers, perhaps viewing the trademarking as less than ideal at this point, calmly, sensibly and without a whiff of camp hysteria, refer to the action as the latest plot development.

The final curtain might be a while yet.

Murray Fairclough
Development Underwriter
OPUS Underwriting Limited 
+44 (0) 780 145 9940

Researched by Ben Fairclough


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