Trademarks in China Raise New Questions About Trump's Conflicts of Interests

This story has been updated since it first published.


China's State Administration for Industry and Commerce has granted preliminary approval on 38 Trump trademarks for businesses ranging from golf clubs and hotels to branded spa and massage services, according to the Associated Press. All but three are in the president's name. 

The AP had previously reported that one of the trademarks sought by The Trump Organization was for a social escort service, a detail disputed by the company's chief legal officer, Alan Garten. Operations for a hotel or restaurant fall under the same trademark class as "escort services," which was listed in the original filing along with "body guard" and "social escort" among others.

As the Washington Post notes, sprawling trademark applications like the Trump Organization's are common in China. "Lawyers often advise clients with wide-ranging business interests to file broad, defensive trademark applications against a range of products to prevent other people jumping in," says China bureau chief Simon Denyer. He adds that outside parties have already laid claim to the Trump name for products including "condoms, toilets, pesticide and paint."

Garten maintains that these latest trademarks are the "natural result" of Trump's longstanding business ties to China. "Any suggestion to the contrary demonstrates a complete disregard of the facts as well as a lack of understanding of international trademark law," he told the AP in an email.

Still, the relative ease with which these trademarks were approved raises further questions as to whether the president has violated the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prevents public officials from accepting gifts or titles from a foreign state without the consent of Congress.

"A routine trademark, patent or copyright from a foreign government is likely not an unconstitutiunal emolument," says Richard Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota who served as chief ethics lawyer for George W. Bush. "But with so many trademarks being granted over such a short time period, the question arises as to whether there is an accomodation in at least some of them."

Painter and Norman Eisen, who served as chief as chief ethics lawyer for Barack Obama, are suing the president on the grounds that his foreign business dealings are in violation of the Constitution. Trump has declared the suit, which is backed by several prominent Constitutional scholars and is being overseen by an Obama-appointed judge, to be "without merit."

Trump has called China the "grand champions" of currency manipulation and recently sparked an international incident when he declined to acknowledge the country's one-state policy, a course he has since reversed

The Trump Organization is ostensibly being run by his eldest son, Donald, Jr., and executive Allen Weisselberg. But as the AP observes, "Trump retains the ability to revoke the trust at any time and as the sole beneficiary, stand to benefit financially from it."

H/T The Associated Press

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