After much analysis and speculation, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan, have withdrawn trademark applications for their Sussex Royal brand.
What some had pegged as potentially becoming a billion-dollar brand, the Sussex Royal brand is no longer every marketer’s dream that it once was. But the power couple could still very well reach billionaire status with their various speaking engagements, book deals, talk show appearances and other pursuits, according to one London-based branding expert.
According to news reports Friday, a spokeswoman for the Sussexes said in a statement, “While the Duke and Duchess are focused on plans to establish a new nonprofit organization, given the specific U.K. government rules surrounding use of the word ‘Royal,’ it has been therefore agreed that their nonprofit organization, when it is announced this spring, will not be named Sussex Royal Foundation.
“The Duke and Duchess of Sussex do not intend to use ‘Sussex Royal’ in any territory post spring 2020,” she said.
After months of intense debate about the prospect of the Sussex Royal brand, today’s announcement sets forth a new course for the soon-to-be entrepreneurs. The former “Suits” actress and her husband, who call Vancouver Island home, will officially give up their royal duties at the end of March. They will hold onto their “Royal Highness” titles, but they will no longer be working members of the royal family. As highlighted on the official Sussex Royal site, “The Duke and Duchess of Sussex will become privately funded members of the Royal Family with permission to earn their own income and the ability to pursue their own private charitable interests.” Once their revised roles takes effect this spring, it will undergo a 12-month review, the site noted.
The site makes the distinction that the couple do not plan to start a foundation “but rather intend to develop a new way to effect change and complement the efforts made by so many excellent foundations globally.” The site noted, “While the Duke and Duchess are focused on plans to establish a new nonprofit organization, given the specific U.K. government rules surrounding use of the word ‘Royal,’ it has been therefore agreed that their nonprofit organization will not utilize the name ‘Sussex Royal’ or any other iteration of ‘Royal.’”
It continued, “For the above reason, the trademark applications that had been filed as protective measures and that reflected the same standard trademarking requests as done for The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, have been removed.”
The drastic change in trademark plans is an about-face for Harry and Meghan. One-hundred trademarks were reportedly applied for last year in the U.S. for a wide range of Sussex Royal apparel and other merchandise. Some of that may have been a preventive strike to avoid other people from trading in on their name. Attorneys working on behalf of Prince William and Kate Middleton had taken similar measures, according to Brand Finance chief executive officer David Haigh. The collective thinking was that Harry and Meghan would also amass trademarks in the U.S. In an interview with WWD last month, Haigh said, “America is really a huge place — it’s half of the world’s economy, basically. If they are popular in America, they could easily become a billion-dollar phenomenon very fast.”
In an interview Friday, Haigh said “absolutely nothing has changed,” in terms of the possibility of them becoming bilionaires. “In fact, I was told that the speaker agencies are now all in a bidding war to get them on their books. We’ve speculated that they could be charging anywhere from $200,000 to $800,000 for a speech dependng on how important and commercial it is. There has been widespread speculation that they got $1 million for speaking for JP Morgan [an event in Miami earlier this month.] There are many well-paid speaking engagements that would be gagging to get them to speak.”
“In some ways, the more difficulty and friction, the more interesting their story is. So when they go write their memoirs, which they’ll get paid for, or when they talk on talk shows, it adds to the interest of it all,” Haigh said.
The loss of the trademarks “is just an inconvenience,” Haigh said. “They’ve got to think of a good name and it will take them a while,” estimating getting a trademark registered could take six months to a year. “Underneath all that, the question is, ‘How popular will they be and how much money can they make?’ I don’t think this is going to disrupt their popularity and moneymaking on a global scale,” he said.
Friday’s news was not really a surprise to Haigh. “I thought that this would happen from Day One – that they would be politely told, ‘I’m sorry you may have registered when you were a working royal. Now that you aren’t, it doesn’t really apply any more and we’d like you to stop.”
“Under the rules, you can’t use registered trademark with the word ‘royal’ without very careful scrutiny. It usually goes right up to cabinet-office level and would be discussed with the palace,” referring to Buckingham Palace. “It’s very similar to other words. You can’t use ‘institute’ or the word ‘trust,’ because trust implies charity. Institute implies service and royal obviously implies being connected to the royal family. You also can’t use the word ‘chartered.’ There are lots of words that are protected in the public interest. They don’t want people to be misled.
“I suspect there are some people in the palace who don’t want to make it easy for them – humbug, because there’s probably a fair amount of resentment among the officials and people, who work there. Several hundred people work in the palace, and I don’t suppose they particularly approve of their sheninagans. So they’re certainly not going to make it easy for them. But in the wider world, I really don’t think people care much.”
An e-mailed request to a Buckingham Palace spokeswoman was not immediately responded to Friday.
Unable to use the “Sussex Royal” brand for commercial purposes, the couple will put the word out about their ventures — many of which are expected to have a philanthropic component — via their own digital channels. Visitors to the couple’s site will learn, “As the Duke and Duchess of Sussex continue to develop their nonprofit organization and plan for their future, we hope that you use this site as the source for factual information. In spring 2020, their digital channels will be refreshed as they introduce the next exciting phase to you.”
Read more from WWD:
WATCH: How to Recreate Meghan Markle’s Messy Bun