Last year, the ‘war of the wags’ captured the nation, culminating in a seven-day trial in the High Court. Rebekah Vardy sued Colleen Rooney for libel after Rooney accused Vardy on social media of consistently passing on information about Rooney’s private Instagram posts and stories to The Sun newspaper.
The high-profile trial became known as the “Wagatha Christie” trial, after the term was coined by comedian Dan Atkinson and spread on social media. The term is a portmanteau of “WAG”, an acronym referring to the wives and girlfriends of high-profile sportsmen, and “Agatha Christie” in recognition of Rooney’s detective skills.
Vardy lost the case and paid a high price both reputationally and financially. She was ordered to pay 90% of Rooney’s legal costs (in the region of £1.5 million) on top of already having to pay her own. The story was thought to have ended there until last week when Vardy’s application to register “Wagatha Christie” as a trade mark (ironically the term coined after Rooney) was granted.
Now, anyone seeking to use the term “Wagatha Christie” in the course of trade in relation to a wide range of goods and services will need Vardy’s consent to do so (which will likely come at a cost). The trade mark registration spans 20 classes, including: cosmetics; jewellery; stationary; mugs; online retail and advertising; broadcasting; and fashion design. The trade mark does not enable Vardy to prevent others from using or referencing these words non-commercially (such as in articles) but it does give her control over how they can be used in the course of trade in connection with the goods and services for which they are registered.
From a commercial standpoint, it is a shrewd move by Vardy in using trade mark registration either to exploit the well-known dispute (albeit via a term coined after Rooney) or to prevent Rooney from doing the same. The trade mark will be eligible for revocation in five years’ time if it has not been put to genuine use so only time will tell what motivated Vardy’s decision.
Whilst it is possible for trade marks to be invalidated on the grounds of bad faith, a subject we have seen in the news recently with the cases of Skykick and Lidl v Tesco, unfortunately for Rooney the evidential burden required to succeed is very high. In the absence of clear evidence that Vardy’s intentions fall short of the standards of acceptable commercial behaviour, such a claim would be unlikely to succeed.
If Vardy does intend to put the trade mark to use, then from a reputational perspective it is an interesting decision to seek to exploit a term that has caused her significant reputational damage. Given that it is ultimately a reference to Rooney, any unsavoury use interpreted as being in reference to Rooney could result in another defamation claim.
Throughout the saga, a slew of brands and businesses have sought to profit from the portmanteau by producing merchandise and content associated with the high profile trial. However, they may now need to factor in additional costs in order to gain Vardy’s consent if they intend to continue doing so.