Plot twist: Rebekah Vardy registers trade mark ”WAGATHA CHRISTIE” after losing libel case

The phrase “Wagatha Christie”, claimed to have been coined by Dan Atkinson in a viral tweet sent back in 2019, has been a buzzword in the UK since Colleen Rooney accused Rebekah Vardy of leaking stories about her to the press.

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In May 2022, Vardy lost the defamation trial in the High Court. However, she has now trademarked “WAGATHA CHRISTIE”, raising several legal issues which could have wider implications from an intellectual property law standpoint.

A trade mark registration

On 22 August 2022, Vardy filed to register a trade mark for “WAGATHA CHRISTIE” via a friend’s company, London Entertainment Inc Ltd. She has registered the trade mark under a myriad of goods and services ranging from “publishing of scripts for theatrical use” and “production of television programs”, to merchandise including “cosmetics”, “sunglasses”, “fashion jewellery” and “alcoholic cocktails” to name but a few. She also filed to register the trade mark under household clothing and cloths; however, this registration is being opposed by Welspun UK Limited, a company who own the “Christy” towel brand. Aside from the household linen goods application, the “WAGATHA CHRISTIE” mark registered on 14 April 2023.

Bad faith and risks of invalidation

It seems unlikely that Vardy intends to use the trade mark in relation to all the 20 classes for which she has registered the trade mark. Therefore the registration itself raises certain legal issues – most notably being the question of bad faith and the risk of invalidation.

Under section 3(6) of the Trade Marks Act 1994, a trade mark application shall not be registered if the applicant made the application in bad faith. Therefore, if Vardy, at the time of the application, had a dishonest intention to undermine the interests of third parties or obtain exclusive rights for purposes beyond the functions of the trade mark, the registration could be denied. It has been suggested that her trade mark application may fall under “trade mark squatting”, which is the act of applying for protection of a pre-existing brand by formal registration with the motive of selling it for a profit at a later date, thus undermining competitors wishing to use or already using the mark.

Moreover, Vardy’s registration could be at risk of an invalidation challenge under section 5(4) of the Trade Marks Act 1994 from holders of earlier unregistered rights in “WAGATHA CHRISTIE”. If the parties that already use the phrase prove that they have sufficient reputation in the phrase, and that potential customers associate the trade mark with them, they could apply to invalidate the registration. This seems somewhat likely given the various examples of uses and the commercialisation of the phrase in the wake of Dan Atkinson’s tweet back in 2019: “Wagatha Christie” was the title of a BBC sounds podcast and was also used in a two-part television drama on Channel 4, it was used on T-shirts which fashion stylist Ozzie Shah claimed he earned £50,000 from, and it has also been used as a slogan on phone case products. In fact, the phrase is also currently in use for the “publishing of scripts for theatrical use” in the West End play “Vardy v Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial”.

Key takeaways

It is unclear how this registration will impact those who have already been using the term “Wagatha Christie” in their works. Eleanor Lloyd, the producer of the West End production, has expressed her opinion that she does not see a need to change the name of the show, but that she will add a reference to the trade mark registration in the existing script. It is unclear how Vardy’s company intends to use the mark (or indeed, prevent others from using it), and so it remains to be seen whether this registration will have a chilling effect on other businesses or individuals that may want to use the phrase in the future.

Vardy’s registering of the “WAGATHE CHRISTIE” mark highlights that a multitude of things can be trademarked, even taglines, regardless of the origin. The registration itself raises several legal issues and it will be interesting to see how this next chapter unfolds in the ongoing Wagatha Christie saga.

Authors: Melanie Obrowski (Vacation Schemer), Freddie Eastwell (Trainee)

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