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Image: Alexi Lubomirski/Kensington Palace

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle revealed that they will “transition” into “a progressive new role within [the royal] institution” this year, confirming in a statement on Wednesday that they “intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen.” The duo, who go by the titles of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, say they will “balance [their] time between the United Kingdom and North America” as part of a “new chapter,” which will include their soon-to-launch charitable entity, Sussex Royal the Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

The announcement follows from media speculation that change was afoot for the two royals and their son, the 8-month old Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, and has prompted an array of questions, including whether the Duke and Duchess will keep their formal titles, which is an interesting inquiry given the two trademark applications for registration that were lodged with the United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office (“UKIPO”) last year on behalf of their foundation.

Originally filed in June 2019, the two trademark applications – one for “Sussex Royal” and the other for “Sussex Royal The Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex” – made headlines last month when they were formally published by the UKIPO, thereby enabling anyone to “make observations on the acceptance or oppose the registration” of the marks, according to the UKIPO, a formality in the registration process in which others, namely, other trademark holders that believe they might be damaged by the registration of a pending trademark application may oppose its registration.

The “Sussex Royal” applications – which largely mirror the since-registered 2009 applications filed for “The Royal Foundation” and “The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry” – extend to a sizable array of classes of goods and services (six to be exact) and approximately 100 different goods and/or services, from “charitable fund raising” and “promotional and public awareness campaigns, [and] marketing and promotion of charitable campaigns” to clothing and footwear, and printed materials, such as newsletters.

To date, Harry and Meghan’s use of the “Sussex Royal” mark has been limited to their social media handles. Although, neither their lack of use of the mark to date in connection with the aforementioned goods/services nor any potential lack of use going forward will necessarily stand to prevent them from amassing rights. Unlike in the U.S., where registration is contingent upon the filing-party showing actual use of a mark in commerce, UK trademark law has no such pre-registration requirement.

(Use does, however, become an issue if a third-party were to wage a non-use battle over a registered mark, or in cases of alleged infringement when a defendant “may counterattack the [plaintiff’s] trademark registration” – and the basis of his/her infringement claims – on the grounds of non-use,” per London-based firm Mewburn.)

While the narrative surrounding the royals’ trademark filings has centered on their alleged desire to build out a “billion-dollar brand” in connection with their up-and-coming foundation, World Trademark Review’s Tim Lince stated in an recent article that there may be a bit more to it. According to Lince, the royals’ June applications were actually filed after an unaffiliated “third-party [filed an application for] SUSSEX ROYAL with the UKIPO [right] around the time that the couple launched the original Sussex Royal account on Instagram.” He suggests that the applications “could be seen as partially a defensive move to secure protection for the term after another party had sought to do so.”

As indicated by a growing pool of celebrity-filed applications for the names of their children, in particular, this would hardly be the first time a famous name filed for a registration (albeit, often unsuccessfully, in the U.S., at least) in an attempt to try to prevent others from doing so.

What is known about the Sussex Royal Foundation, itself – which  Harry and Meghan founded after “splitting from the Royal Foundation, a charity set up in 2009 by Harry and his brother, Prince William, that supports veterans, environmental conservation and mental health issues,” according to the New York Times – largely centers on its makeup. As initially revealed in July 2019, the Sussex Royal The Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex was registered by the Registrar of Companies for England and Wales as a private company, with its initial four directors being Harry and Meghan, Sara Latham, who also serves as the Communications Secretary to the Sussexes, and former Royal Foundation staffer Natalie Campbell.

Since its formal founding this summer, former BBC broadcaster Kirsty Jackson Jones; Stefan Paul Allesch-Taylor, who is the co-founder and Supervisory Board Member of Global Evolution A/S, a fund manager specializing in the emerging markets; Steven Martin Cooper, the CEO of C Hoare & Co., the UK’s oldest private bank; and Karen Tracey Blackett, the CEO of media network MediaCom, have been added as directors to the foundation, according to the UK government’s business registry.

In terms of the purpose of the foundation, according to its July 1st articles of incorporation: it is “the principal vehicle for the charitable work of TRH The Duke and Duchess of Sussex.” More specifically, Markle – who has a history of dedication to women’s empowerment causes, among others – stated during her September 2019 speech for the launch of her clothing line for Smart Works, a charity that supports unemployed women seeking to re-enter the workforce, that the Sussex Royal Foundation will consist of “really strong, community-based projects.”

*This article has been updated to include a note about UK trademark law’s lack of a “proof of use” requirement for registration, and a quote from Tim Lince’s subsequently-published article about the potential defensive angle to the royals’ trademark filings.