What’s in a [Brand] Name?

The princess-to-be Kate Middleton now has a name akin to a brand or marque, according to legal experts in Britain.  Royal courtiers are warning businesses that they will be sued for tens of thousands of pounds if they use Kate’s full name on products such as fashion items.

The commoner-turned-(style)-princess has been sending fashion waves all over the globe since the announcement of her engagement to Prince William in November last year.  The £399 royal blue Issa dress she wore at the media announcement of her royal engagement sold out in one day.  Two major clothes brands also made cheap replicas of the dress, which too sold like royal hotcakes.  However, trade mark lawyers in the UK have warned that naming the dress a “Catherine Middleton” or “Kate Middleton” dress will attract trade mark action.

Interestingly, the royals have not explained why using the newbie fashionista’s personal brand would attract such a punishment, only claiming that they now have “control” over her name, and businesses should not be able to cash in on it. If the royal family were to take action in Australia they would have a number of potential legal remedies including:

  • s 43 of the Trade Marks Act 1995 (Cth), which would allow the family to prevent the registration of a “Kate Middleton” mark on the grounds that the good or service would likely be perceived as connected with the owner of the famous name, or that name is likely to indicate either the patronage of the famous person, or that he or she is involved in the production of the good or the supply of the service;
  • s 18 of the Australian Consumer Law, which prohibits businesses engaging in misleading and deceptive conduct.  For example, a clothing brand could not call a particular blazer the “Kate Middleton”, because this would be suggestive that she endorsed the blazer using her personal brand; or  
  • s 120(3) of the Trade Marks Act 1995 (Cth), which applies to a well known mark.  If the UK Crown does register “Kate Middleton” as a mark in Australia (which they may be able to do if they are selling commemorative objects relating to the wedding), then a court may find that, because of the well-known nature of the “Kate Middleton” mark, other uses of the mark, even those on unrelated goods and services, would be taken as indicating a connection between the goods and services and the owner of the mark.

Whatever approach the Royal Family take to Kate Middleton, it is unlikely that our interest in her style, brand or IP rights will die down soon.  

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