In a sense, royalty in one form or another has always been with us. Even the simplest forms of human societies, the tribal unit, has an acknowledged leader or chief. But as social orbookders have evolved over millennia the role of the leader has evolved as well. In the beginning it was all about dominant personalities taking charge and making decisions.
Power has a tendency to centralize. Over time, as other structures of ever more complex societies become more formalized, centralized power in one individual tends to be more formalized. This is particularly true if you look at the broad history of the human race as a history of military conflict as different social groups compete for territory and the resources those territories provide. Before you know it, the relatively humble tribal chieftain and his supporters have become a warlord and his generals and in turn become a king and an aristocracy.
It might seem that kings, royalty and the aristocracies of the world are removed from commerce, but in reality royalty and aristocracy has always been a business. You need money to fight wars and, in times of peace, you need money to fund projects to provide services for the populations that prop up the system. This is true even today in a world where many royal families no longer rule but reign in a complicated relationship with the elected governments of democracies.
Even the British Royal Family refers to themselves as “The Firm”, implying that they too are a business that provides some sort of service in exchange for their cost to society.
Trademarks are symbols that specify the source of a particular service or product. They are formal signals. Royalty and aristocracy created something like trademarks when they began to devise heraldry. One could argue that shields and flags were the beginnings of trademarks. But it goes deeper than that.
The British Royal Family actually created trademarks when, in 1266, Henry III created legislation requiring that all bread makers mark their bread with a distinctive sign. The idea caught on with other trades and their associations and guilds over time adopted the practice of trademarks in order to identify brands. The message was always the same, “this sign signals that you can expect a particular quality of product or service.”
Trademarks have always been rigorously protected because otherwise anyone could signal anything, in particular lies, offering inferior products or services under a false signal and false promises.
It stands to reason, therefore, that even to this day, the British Royal Family too has its collection of protected symbols.
There are, for example very strict rules around the use of royal and aristocratic arms, names and images. You can’t just place a coat of arms over your building or on your product packaging just because you like the way it looks. Someone owns that symbol and might not take kindly to your use of it because it “looks cool”.
If you’re interested in these rules, particularly as they pertain to royal signs, go here:
A particularly interesting case of “who owns what” occurred in 2020, when on January 8 of that year Prince Harry and his wife decided to succeed from the royal family. As Duke and Duchess of Sussex they then filed six trademark applications with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for
When you file for a trademark, you’re required to file in countries where you intend to use the trademark and you need to specify what goods or services you intend to use the mark on. In the case of the Sussexes – “printed matter, clothing, campaigning, charitable fundraising, education, and social care services, including licensing of intellectual property.”
You should also be aware that if you’re announcing trademark application, you’re leaving yourself open to competing applications and notices of opposition. In this particular case, the Sussexes had filed in the UK on 21 June 2019 which resulted in swift notices of objection (feel free to guess from whom) and in the USA on the same day that the Sussexes applied, competing applications were made for the use of “Sussex Royal” for curtains and towels and alcoholic beverages. A few days later Canada saw a flurry of applications for “Sussex Royal” used for clothing and fruit juice. What a coincidence!
It seems that the Sussexes were either badly advised or incompetent. If they had filed in other countries within six months of the UK date they would have been able to take advantage of the earlier date to protect themselves. All of which shows the need to consult with a specialist intellectual property lawyer beforehand because they know the rules. As it stands the whole Sussex Royal thing might be academic, since The Firm, backed by the British government, made it pretty clear that “Sussex Royal” didn’t have a hope of making it. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t not be a member and still hope to use one of its badges.
There is, however, a large group of businesses that the royal family have lent their legitimacy too. These “signs of approval” are called “Royal Warrants” and they provide goods and services to the royals. There are currently 883 holders of such warrants. You’re probably most familiar with this through the concept of the “By Appointment” label on certain products. Some of the more famous holders include Burberry (Clothing), Veuve Clicquot (Champagne) and Twinings (Tea). The Merchandise Marks Act of 1887 makes it illegal to falsely claim you have a royal warrant. You can find a full list of the holders here: https://www.royalwarrant.org/directory