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By Martin Douglas Hendry

16/01/20

IP Insight – Harry and Meghan Prioritise Trade Marks

IP Insight is a series from Virtuoso Legal the intellectual property specialists. This insight looks at the Sussex Royal's trade mark registrations.

Unless you’ve been proverbially “living under a rock” for the past week or so, you’ve probably heard that Prince Harry and Princess Meghan have announced that they will be stepping away from formal Royal duties in the coming years. This has caused some consternation in various ranks (to say the least).

Simply put, it’s taken over the news cycle, and we won’t hear anything else for some time.

For many, the entire to-do came as a right royal surprise! But for those who had an eye on IP – this wasn’t so much the case…

Harry and Meghan: What’s Next? Follow the Trade Marks

The Duke and Duchess set up their Foundation as a limited company on 1 July 2019 and called it “Sussex Royal The Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex”.

However, prior to setting that up they applied for two trade marks:

SUSSEX ROYAL

SUSSEX ROYAL THE FOUNDATION OF THE DUKE AND DUCHESS OF SUSSEX

In fact, these two trade marks were applied for on 21 June 2019, two weeks prior to the incorporation of the company.

Interestingly, the trade marks weren’t published until 20 December which means that the couple managed to keep their interests in the SUSSEX ROYAL brand out of the public eye until just before Christmas (when it presumably slipped under the radar of the national press that a new Royal brand was to emerge).

Whilst the trade marks themselves are fairly unassuming, and would not ring any alarm bells per sé.

An insight into how the couple were going to use their brand can be gleaned from the classes in which they have claimed for use.

The trade mark specifications they’ve have claimed include extensive coverage for: campaigning, fund raising, education and social care. This squarely reflects the couple and their stated interests.

Although they have also claimed trade mark use for printed matter and clothing in other classes; these classes of use are often required to protect the printed material and clothing associated as collateral and merchandise for other business interests. As such, it shouldn’t be viewed as a sign of intent to cynically profit from a royal brand, as some have intimated, but rather a means of protecting this kind of use from others that would.

Not Without (Royal) Precedent

This kind of branding activity is not particularly new or ground breaking.

Interestingly, the Diana Princess of Wales trade mark portfolio filed by the Trustees of her estate in 1998 shortly after her death, have now all expired.

Diana’s name was extensively filed in a number of product classes and appeared to have been registered by family members more for merchandising than for charitable purposes. Which might surprise some.

In the end however, the Trustees fell out and the trade marks weren’t used as intended.

Meghan: A Sought After Brand?

A quick look at the Trade Mark Office website also indicates a US company attempted to register Meghan Markle in class 25 for clothing.

This was withdrawn within 5 weeks of being submitted. No doubt someone at this company sought to take advantage of Meghan’s name to endorse a clothing brand and was quickly shot down in this attempt.

This brings me to another point – which is how much exactly is Harry and Meghan’s brand worth?

With their breakaway moment, and somewhat polarising position, one might argue that their brand has some incredible pulling (and pushing) power.

If there’s one thing we know about good brands, it’s that people have strong opinions about them – one way or another. With the continued consternation around the couple looking like it is not going to end soon, this can only be seen to add to the brand’s prospective prominence.

Royal Pulling Power

After all, anything “Royal” has de facto global pulling power. Famous figures such as David Beckham charge brand owner’s huge amounts of money to wear clothes or endorse brands.

Such influencer-type marketing is now rife and social media companies now require Instagrammers to declare their business interests to their followers with draconian sanctions for those that don’t. This is maybe the price of seamlessly embedding advertising in streams of people’s day-to-day lives.

However, I can’t see Meghan and Harry engaging in such activity wantonly – even though they’ve declared that they will be financially independent.

Such conduct via product endorsement doesn’t always fit well with strict Royal protocol although Sarah Ferguson the Duchess of York, of course, was paid handsomely by Weight Watchers to champion the brand. She also received money from Avon and Wedgewood.

Zara Tindall (nee Phillips) the Queen's granddaughter – earns and income from endorsing equestrian clothing.

The ultimate brand Royal brand, of course, is the Royal Warrant which is only awarded to certain trusted suppliers of after they have supplied the Households of HM The Queen, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh or HRH The Prince of Wales with goods or services for at least five years out of seven (including a duration of 12 months before applying).

The Royal Warrant is of course hugely prized by those suppliers and brings a global reputation to them for the purposes of export of goods and services.

Our Insight

It remains to be seen exactly how this glamorous and well-meaning couple will use their young and mighty brand.

Whatever they do, amongst other royal brands, theirs will be a force to be reckoned with and it is clear from all the information we have that campaigning and charity work will be on their top of their agenda rather than selling products.

I leave you with a question…

If the first thing you do when you before break away from the Royal Family is register your trade marks – what does that tell you?​

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