March 9, 2017 / 5:19 AM / 6 months ago

China gives greenlight to dozens of Trump trademarks

The headquarters of the China Trademark Office is seen in Beijing, China, March 9, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee

SHANGHAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - China has granted preliminary approval for 38 trademarks linked to Donald Trump, documents on China’s state trademark office show, giving the U.S. President and his family protection were they to develop the “Trump” brand in the market.

The trademarks - which in theory cover a wide sweep of businesses from hotels to mobile libraries and escorts - underline the complexities and potential concerns over conflicts of interest facing President Trump, who has a sprawling business empire using the Trump name around the world.

Trump, a wealthy real estate developer, has previously said he has handed over his business interests to a trust overseen by one of his sons and a Trump Organization executive. He can, however, revoke the trust at will and, as its sole beneficiary, remains linked to it financially.

The trademarks - mostly variations in English and Chinese on the name “Donald Trump” - were given preliminary approval in two lists published on the Trademark Office of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce on Feb. 27 and Monday.

Trump’s lawyers applied for the trademarks in April last year, mostly registered to “Donald J. Trump” and listing to the address of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York.

Some U.S. law makers have raised questions about whether Trump’s position as President could prompt preferential treatment of his businesses. Trademark lawyers, however, said that the approval process did not seem that unusual.

“If they were filed in April last year and just now approved, it’s fairly normal,” said Yong Heng Wu, Shanghai-based counsel for MWE China focused on intellectual property, adding the general timeframe for preliminary approvals was 6-9 months.

“I think the reason why people are paying so much attention to Donald Trump trademarks now is because he became the President of the most powerful country in the world.”

The trademarks cover business areas including branded spas, massage parlors, golf clubs, hotels, insurance, finance and real estate companies, retail shops, restaurants, bars, bodyguards and escort services.

Intellectual property lawyers said trademark applications were often very broad to give the applicant the most comprehensive protection for their brand.

Three of them, related to hotel brand Scion that Trump’s sons want to expand in the United States, are not directly registered in the President’s name but via DTTM Operations LLC. The three are also listed to the Trump Tower address.

Asked about the approvals, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China had always “equally” protected trademarks for Chinese and foreign companies, adding that the approvals process had been carried out in line with the law.

POLITICS AND BUSINESS

The preliminary approvals are open to be challenged for around a 90-day period. Barring objections they will be formally registered in late May and early June respectively.

Trump and his family, like many business owners, hold trademarks around the world, from business sectors such as apparel in the Philippines to golf clubs in Australia and property in Japan and South Korea.

These ties between politics and business have, however, prompted concern from politicians and rights groups who say the President could face potential conflicts of interest related to the extensive business affairs of his family.

Alan Garten, general counsel for the Trump Organization, said in a statement the group had been actively enforcing its intellectual property rights in China for over 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.”

Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, the ranking member on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called for formal briefings about the Chinese trademark approvals and on “the potential constitutional dangers that they present.”

Cardin has previously introduced a resolution demanding Trump cut his ties with the Trump Organization or risk violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which bars public servants from accepting anything of value from foreign governments unless approved by Congress.

Chang Tsi & Partners, listed as acting on behalf of Trump’s team for the China trademark applications, did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment on the approvals.

Trump received a single trademark approval last month in China for Trump-branded construction services, following a 10-year legal battle.

The Associated Press earlier reported the approvals.

Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING, Heekyong Yang in SEOUL, Sam Nussey in TOKYO and Neil Jerome Morales in HANOI and Byron Kaye in SYDNEY; Editing by James Dalgleish and Clarence Fernandez

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