Do the initials “WWF” mean anything to you apart from cheesy US wrestling? The World Wildlife Fund think so and so did the court in this recent tussle, detailed here
Who: The Worldwide Fund for Nature (formerde Fund for Nature (formerly World Wildlife Fund) and The World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc
Where: Chancery Division of the High Court, London
When: August 2001
In 1994 the World Wildlife Fund (as it was then called) ("the Fund") came to an agreement with the World Wrestling Federation (“the Federation”). The Fund, which by that time had been using the "WWF" initials for some considerable time, had been increasingly concerned about the Federation’s use of the same initials and had started proceedings which were designed to stop the practice altogether. The compromise they reached in 1994 was designed to settle the dispute. As part of the deal, the Federation agreed not to use the "WWF" initials anywhere outside the US. Even in America, it would only be able to refer to itself as "WWF" orally and for the purposes of sports events and advertisements.
Despite the deal, however, the problem did not go away. According to the Fund, breaches by the Federation started in 1997 and things reached a point where the Fund felt it had no alternative but to go back to court. At the hearing in August 2001 in Chancery, the Fund sought an injunction making it quite clear that the Federation now had to buckle down and honour the 1994 deal. The penalty for non-compliance would be fines or in serious cases, terms of imprisonment for its directors. The Federation defended on the basis that the 1994 agreement was an unacceptable restraint of trade and as such should not be enforced by the courts. The Judge's answer to this was that unless the Federation could show that the restraint agreed in 1994 "went beyond any reasonably arguable scope of protection of the intellectual property rights in issue", then they could not try to undo the deal that had been made 7 years previously. As it had not shown this to be the case here, the defence failed and the Fund got their injunction.
Why this matters
World Wrestling Federation events are now the biggest thing on US TV, and there are signs that the UK and other European countries are starting to succumb to its attractions. One can understand why, having reached an agreement in clear terms in 1994, the Fund felt constrained to take action. Even now, many high street brown goods retailers in the UK are promoting the availability of "WWF" on digital TV channels as part of satellite or cable packages. The Federation is appealing the decision. Provided the injunction remains in place, however, depending on the terms of the order handed down by the Judge, it could be the Federation’s responsibility to do all that it reasonably can to ensure that this practice ceases. How easy it will be to do that up and down the country, where "WWF" has already become the accepted moniker for the US "sport" is another question.