China has greenlit 38 Trump trademarks that contain English and Chinese variations on the name “Donald Trump.” Although China stated that it followed the law in processing the applications, some experts in the United States and beyond view the pace as “unusually quick,” and raised fears of political leveraging.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang briefed reporters that Chinese authorities handle all trademark applications “in accordance with the law and regulation.” He declined to comment on speculation about any political influence on Trump’s trademark approvals. Likewise, Zhang Mao, the head of China’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC), stated that “our trademark examination process is open and transparent.”
Meanwhile, critics in the United States fear foreign governments might gain leverage by favoring Trump’s global portfolio of brands. Congressional Democrats were especially vocal that the potentially valuable trademarks had been granted, raising questions of conflict of interest and political favoritism. One senator said the issue “merits investigation”; others argue that the trademarks’ approval violates the emoluments clause of the Constitution, barring federal officials from accepting anything of value from foreign governments unless approved by Congress.
The monopoly right to a successful brand in a market like China can be worth huge sums. Former top ethics lawyers from the administrations of Barack Obama and George W. Bush say any special treatment by Beijing in awarding Trump intellectual property protection would violate the Constitution.
Spring Chang, a founding partner at Chang Tsi & Partners, a Beijing law firm that has represented the Trump Organization, declined to comment specifically on Trump’s trademarks. However, Chang has stated that government relations are an important part of trademark strategy in China. She said she has worked with officials from both the U.S. and Canadian embassies to help her clients. The key, Chang said, is that “you should communicate closely with the government to push your case.”
Dan Plane, a director at Simone IP Services, a Hong Kong intellectual property consultancy, said that the efficiency of China’s trademark office in handling Trump’s caseload suggested favor for a man whose decisions could have a powerful impact on China.
Historically, Trump has struggled to win trademarks from China; he secured one recently after a 10-year fight that proved successful only after he declared his candidacy for the presidency. Drawing on public records from the Trademark Office of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, the AP compiled a detailed list of 49 trademarks that Trump’s lawyers had applied for in 2016, even as he publicly railed against China on the campaign trail. On Feb. 22, seven of those marks were rejected, though public records do not indicate why. On Feb. 27 and Mar. 6, China then granted preliminary approval for 38 marks. Four applications are pending.
Democrats have since written to Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, advocating scrutiny of Trump’s intellectual property interests in China.
The White House declined to comment, referring the question to the Trump Organization.
The Associated Press, “China Defends Approval of 38 Trump Trademarks” USA Today (Mar. 9, 2017), http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2017/03/09/china-approves-trump-trademarks/98953422/
Brian Todd, Chris Isidore, and Jethro Mullen, “China Grants Trump a Trademark He’s Been Seeking for a Decade,” CNN Money (Feb. 17, 2017), http://money.cnn.com/2017/02/17/news/companies/trump-china-trademark/
Lusha Zhang and Michael Martina, “China Defends its Trump Trademark Approvals as in Line with Law,” Reuters (Mar. 10, 2017), http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-china-trademarks-idUSKBN16H17T
Sui-Lee Wee, “In China, Trump Wins a Trove of New Trademarks,” New York Times (Mar. 8, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/08/business/china-trademark-donald-trump.html
“China Defends Trump Trademark Approvals,” Financial Tribune (Mar. 11, 2017), https://financialtribune.com/articles/international/61207/china-defends-trump-trademark-approvals