Jonah Lomu’s widow and his estate executor are at odds over who owns the late rugby superstar’s trademark.
Nadene Lomu wrote a cease-and-desist letter earlier this week to the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) over a proposed documentary about the global sensation, who died eight years ago, claiming she has sole rights to his story.
The fight for the trademark has uncovered much more than just the fight to tell his story, but also a fraught history between Lomu’s widow and the man who controls his estate.
Rugby’s first truly global star died on November 18, 2015, at just 40, after a lifelong battle with a kidney ailment.
In a statement to the Herald, Nadene claimed: ”I am the one true owner of the Jonah Lomu Estate in accordance with the will of my beloved husband.”
However, Lomu’s will showed trademarks, property and any other wealth were left in the control of his long-time lawyer Chris Darlow through two companies, Stylez Ltd and Wesley Holdings Ltd.
When the Herald spoke to Darlow today, he said Nadene’s trademarks were “unauthorised”.
“Now, I’ve been having a dispute over this for many years now with Nadene because she has tried her best to exploit the IP when she has no right to now, she has gone and registered these trademarks without my approval,” Darlow said.
“In order for them to be valid she needed my approval.”
Darlow said he had never approved their use and he had since approached the trademarks office, saying “that application of mine is still to be determined”.
Darlow said he has been able to “exploit” Lomu’s IP to a “limited degree” over the years and has always paid money across to Nadene for the benefit of the couple’s two sons.
Intellectual Property Office of NZ national manager Becky White said an invalidity application had been filed for Lomu’s trademark.
“The Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand examines and registers intellectual property rights in New Zealand including trademarks. Any issues around whether a trademark has or has not been authorised by the owner of the trademark is a matter between the private parties involved and it’s not appropriate for IPONZ as a regulator to comment.”
The Weekend Herald obtained Lomu’s will from the High Court at Wellington in 2016. It shows it was lodged with the court on December 21, about a month after he died. Darlow was granted the legal right by the court on January 21 to act as executor of the will.
The signed will by Lomu states: “I give the shares I own in Stylez Limited and Wesley Holdings Limited (the trustees of the Silk Trust and the Wesley Holding Trust respectively) to Christopher Robert Darlow.”
The transfer of the shareholding to Darlow was not for his personal benefit but to give him authority to administer the trusts.
Stylez Ltd and Wesley Holdings Ltd were 100 per cent owned by Lomu at the time of his death.
The same company is shown as having registered the trademarks on Lomu’s name and branded imagery, although ownership is believed to be with the Silk Trust.
Lomu’s will showed he gave his rugby and other sporting memorabilia to his sons also under the Silk Trust, which is a trustee under Wesley Holdings Ltd. Lomu’s will stated the power to appoint people as trustees of the Silk Trust remains with Darlow.
As per Lomu’s will, Nadene was left was the remainder of his wealth, however, it was revealed in 2015 that Lomu died broke.
Nadene additionally claimed she was the “authorised person” and director of Stylez Limited. Companies Office records confirmed Darlow was in fact the director and sole shareholder of the company.
In 2016, Nadene took Darlow by surprise when she posted herself as the owner of Wesley Holdings, as well as making unauthorised changes to Stylez Limited.
She was promptly removed as a shareholder from both companies, and Darlow amended the changes she made.
Public documents also show Nadene Lomu was an “authorised person” but had no stake in the ownership of Stylez before January 4, almost two months after Lomu died.
Addtionally, Nadene claimed the usage of Lomu’s IP and all licensing agreements expired in 2003 and were never renewed. Darlow disputed this claim.
Nadene said she was fighting to “protect Jonah and his legacy for our two sons as that is what Jonah told me to do the day prior to his devastating passing”.
Explaining her decision to fight against the documentary, Nadene Lomu told friends and family on Facebook: “As we approach eight years since our beloved Jonah devastatingly passed away leaving our side, there has been a lot that I have kept close to my heart.”
Her letters to the film commission were a last resort because “someone has to fight and Jonah can’t, so I must, for our whānau”.
“In my letters to the New Zealand Film Commission, I have stated my support for their tireless and honest work on getting the New Zealand storytelling out to the world, and I fully support all they do.
“The letters I wrote were from myself directly to the parties as my concerns are, and have always been, the protection of Jonah’s and my children.
“In saying that, I have no idea on what the storyline or direction of this documentary is taking or where the research has come from, nor has anyone in this process paid attention to see if there are any legal or copyright infringements.”
A producer of the documentary, Emma Slade, said they had been in conversations with the family since last year, and would not have any further comments until the discussions are complete.
Lomu came to fame at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, and still shares the record for most tries (15) at World Cups with South Africa’s Bryan Habana.
Rachel Maher is an Auckland-based reporter who covers breaking news. She has worked for the Herald since 2022.