“Wash, Wiggle and Wag” is sadly not the latest TikTok craze. Instead, it’s the name at the center of a dispute between two dog groomers in the West Midlands. Much like the infamous “Wagachristie” case, there’s an accompanying social media “smear” campaign between the two parties. The media have been having a field day with headlines, such as “Fur flies as two rival dog groomers square up in bitter court battle.” To top it all, there are substantial sums of compensation being bandied about, never mind the legal costs of taking the case to the High Court.
The details of the case are abundantly supplied in the media for the background to the dispute; one groomer is suing their former business partner over the rights to use the name. My interest, not being a dog owner (don’t judge me, please), was sparked by the claims of one of the combatants that “Wash, Wiggle and Wag” was a registered trademark.
Being the intellectual property geek that I am (now you can judge me), I went to my favorite website – the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), where I spend hours delving into the trademark register. I was a little disappointed to discover that “Wash, Wiggle and Wag” is not a registered trademark. It is, however, on the Companies Register. Could it be that someone involved in the “Wash, Wiggle and Wag” debacle believes, or has been told, that if a business name is registered at Companies House, then the name becomes a de facto registered trademark?
Any aspect of IP can be a mystery to many start-ups and SMEs. Granted, patents are a dark art, but for start-ups, the machinations of copyrights, designs, and trademarks can be just as gloomy and terrifying.
In my opinion, having worked with many businesses in the start-up sector, any well-intentioned advice from friends, family, and supporting government agencies concentrates on cash flow, revenue forecasts, funding, business plans, and a plethora of policies. These are all important, but without full attention to IP and the havoc caused by unprotected creations and infringed third-party content, there could be no revenue if it’s all being paid out in damages and legal fees.
Amongst the plethora of policies, how many businesses, even those who should know better, will have an IP policy?
The amount of compensation being claimed in the “Wash, Wiggle and Wag” case is reputed to be £50,000. That will knock a hole in someone’s financial forecast, never mind the impact of the ensuing legal fees.
In addition to the ignorance or willful neglect of IP, the world of start-ups is littered with disagreements between those who set the business up. As in the case of “Wash, Wiggle and Wag,” it appears that there has been a battle over the name of the business. Had the business been registered, there would have been a piece of paper showing exactly — and by whom — the registration had been made. If there had also been a written partnership agreement, who knows if we would ever have heard of “Wash, Wiggle and Wag.”
In this case, the cost of trademark registration could have been as low as £170 – for the word mark and class 44, which specifically mentions dog grooming. Additionally, likely unknown to the two groomers, one or both of them could have completed the application form themselves.
Is the IP system too complicated? Do creators know that copyright is an automatic right once the content is fixed and that the real challenge is being able to prove originality and time of creation? Do business owners realize that they can register their trademarks? Perhaps with a little assistance from advisers. Could the basics of IP not be taught in schools and colleges? The continuing stream of reports about copyright and trademark infringement by new businesses must give a clue as to what could be included in a curriculum, such as basic IP and partnership agreements.
The outcome of this case remains to be seen, but it is certainly a lesson for start-ups.
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