WWF ­ the wildlife fund ­ stops wrestlers muscling in on its name

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The World Wildlife Fund for Nature overcame the considerable muscle of the World Wrestling Federation on Friday in a legal tussle over the use of the acronym WWF.

A High Court judge in London upheld a claim by the wildlife charity that the wrestling federation broke a 1994 agreement under which it promised to restrict its use of the initials in promoting the "sport", whose stars include The Rock and Hulk Hogan.

The charity, which is the world's largest private international nature organisation with more than 4.5 million individual contributors, registered the initials as a trademark in 1961 when it was founded as the World Wildlife Fund.

Although it changed its name to the World Wide Fund for Nature in the UK and several other countries in 1989, it still uses the initials WWF along with the panda symbol in advertising campaigns all over the world.

It initiated legal proceedings to protect its global brand from any unwanted connection with the American-based wrestling organisation which had taken to using the acronym.

The nature charity decided to take legal action to avoid brand-name confusion after the wrestling federation expanded into other parts of the world, including Europe.

Mr Justice Jacob, ruled that since 1997 the wrestling organisation had ignored an agreement to stop using the initials, whether in printed or visual form, to promote its business.

The wrestling foundation argued that it was an unreasonable restraint of trade to prohibit use of the initials. Although it is still permitted to use its full title, it faces the costs of changing its brand name which could amount to £35m.

The Fund said after yesterday's ruling that the judgement would stop the federation using the website address www.wwf.com

She said: "We are delighted with the outcome so far. This judgement means our name and reputation are upheld. Most of our donations in the UK come from individuals and we want them to be able to donate money with confidence."

The case returns to court on 1 October when Mr Justice Jacob will hear argument on damages for breach of contract, legal costs and the wording of an injunction to be made against the federation.