China approves 38 new Donald Trump trademarks

Ethics concerns over trademarks covering businesses including escorts firms

China has given a speedy go-ahead to 38 new Trump trademarks, which will allow US president Donald Trump and his family to use the brand to expand a range of businesses, including hotels, insurance, mobile libraries, security firms and even escort services.

However, the speed with which the trademarks were granted – his lawyers in China applied for the trademarks back in April 2016, when the president was on the campaign trail and using China as a symbol of the perils of global trade – has caused concern among some ethics experts.

Some political rivals have raised questions as to whether the ease with which the approvals were given could mean a conflict between his political role and his business empire. If Mr Trump were seen to get special treatment for his beloved brand from a foreign power, this would place him in violation of the US constitution.

The Trump name is attached to numerous businesses around the world, even though he has handed over his business interests to a trust overseen by his two adult sons and an executive of the Trump Organisation.

Public documents show the approvals were mostly variations in English and Chinese on the name “Donald Trump”. At least seven applications were rejected.

Preliminary approval

The brands received preliminary approval from the trademark office of the state administration for industry and commerce on February 27th and Monday this week. Most of them are registered to “Donald J Trump” and listed to the address of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York.

Last month, Trump secured the trademark in China to his own name for building services, and there was speculation that it would mean the end for products such as Trump toilets, Trump condoms and Trump International Hotel – all trademarks in China that the US leader doesn’t own.

The registration covers a host of business areas, including spas and massage parlours, golf clubs, bodyguard and escort services as well as shops, hotels, insurance companies, finance and real estate companies.

Usually, trademark applications are made in a broad way to cover many bases, and do not suggest Mr Trump’s company plans to open an escort service or a massage parlour.

A lawyer for the Trump Organisation, Alan Garten, said the group had been actively enforcing its intellectual property rights in China for more than a decade.

“The latest registrations are a natural result of those long-standing, diligent efforts, and any suggestion to the contrary demonstrates a complete disregard of the facts as well as a lack of understanding of international trademark law,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Democratic senator Ben Cardin of the US senate foreign relations committee, called for the state, commerce and justice departments to brief congress on the Chinese trademark approvals and on "the potential constitutional dangers that they present".

"This is an astonishing development . . . It's clear to me that officials in Beijing have come to appreciate the potential return on investments for China in having a positive, personal business relationship with the president of the United States, " Mr Cardin said in a statement.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing