A Los Angeles-based attorney has taken it upon himself to attempt to teach Prince Harry and Meghan Markle of England’s royal family a lesson in global intellectual property law. It’s likely that the intricacies of trademark law may come into play to establish who actually has the senior status in the U.S.
Earlier this month, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex made their plans public to step back from their formal roles as senior members of the royal family in favor of living independently – a bold move that they plan to finance by launching their own brand, Sussex Royal.
When this news broke, intellectual property attorney Joel Fogelson, as well as others, discovered the Sussex Royal brand was not yet registered as a trademark in the U.S. in certain classes for specific goods. While the royal couple had already filed an application to register their brand and an extensive list of merchandise in the UK, the duo and the massive machine behind their brand launch seemed to have inexplicably overlooked the need to do so stateside. Or, did they?
Fogelson wasted no time in filing an application in an attempt to own the brand on digital platforms for the purpose of “Communications by computer terminals, transmission and delivery of video, and data via the internet and wireless networks.”
Fogelson does not aim to profit from the move, according to statements he has made to the media. Instead, the attorney claims he filed the application in an attempt to teach the royal couple—and anyone else considering starting their own company―a powerful lesson in new business planning, and the pitfalls that inevitably accompany a lack of due diligence and forethought.
As the Duke and Duchess embark on their ambitious plan to build an empire out of selling their wares in the UK and across the globe, they, like every entrepreneur, face the challenge of doing the same in the U.S. without ownership of the Sussex Royal brand.
While Fogelson claims his intentions are altruistic―and has even gone so far as to say he would give the brand rights to Harry and Meghan for free—recent media reports suggest the field is getting rather crowded. As Fogelson planted his flag on the Sussex Royal name in the U.S., a company across the pond has laid claim to Sussex Royal in the European Union, and a motorcycle company has managed to grab the Australian trademark. It seems unlikely that all three are committed to serving the greater good.
Despite the slick media campaign to announce the launch of Sussex Royal, it would appear the duo and their team failed to think of the most basic aspects of unveiling a new brand. All of this points to one conclusion: if the other trademark applications survive any likelihood of confusion challenge, the soon-to-be former royals may find it more difficult to make money in the U.S., the EU and in Australia than they had anticipated.
The story of Harry and Meghan’s Sussex Royal brand launch may turn out to be a cautionary tale for business owners and intellectual property attorneys alike. Or it may turn out that it is the Duke and Duchess, not Joel Fogelson, who teach IP strategy. Publicly available records indicate the Sussex’s team filed an application for the Sussex Royal name with the World Intellectual Property Organization with a U.S. designation a week before Fogelson came on the scene. This possibly leaves the door open for the royals to capture senior filing status worldwide. The application encompasses all aspects of their business, from clothing and stationery to fundraising and social services in the U.S., the EU, Australia and Canada.
As this situation continues to play out over time, one lesson will stand: every new business plan must include a comprehensive IP strategy, regardless of the celebrity status of those involved or the geography covered.
*This article also appears in Crain’s Cleveland Business.