SHANGHAI — Ivanka Trump’s brand intensified its work in China as her father closed in on the Republican nomination for U.S. president, with her company applying for nearly twice as many trademarks in a five-month span as it had in the preceding eight years.
Ivanka Trump Marks LLC applied for 36 trademarks in China between March and July of last year. From 2008 through 2015, it applied for a total of just 19 trademarks, China’s trademark database showed.
Three of the 2016 applications were granted preliminary approval on April 6, the same day Ivanka Trump dined with China’s President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago, the Associated Press revealed this week in an article that documented how Ivanka Trump’s brand has continued to expand even as she builds a new political career in her father’s administration. Ivanka Trump still owns her brand, but has stepped back from management and put its assets in a family-run trust. China’s foreign ministry has said that the government treated Ivanka’s trademarks just like everyone else’s.
Ethics experts have questioned whether that’s possible, particularly in a country where the ruling Communist Party influences the courts and bureaucracy. Politically sensitive decisions on, for example, the intellectual property of the family of the U.S. president, may well have been subject to high-level political review.
“She needs to be very careful to make sure she’s on the right side of the law,” said Norman Eisen, who served as chief White House ethics lawyer under Barack Obama. “Personally, I find it unlikely that there is no element of Chinese favoritism in the handling of her requests.”
Eisen is part of a lawsuit brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, against Mr. Trump for alleged violations of the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution, involving, among other things, his China trademarks. Eisen argues that if Mr. Trump or his daughter received special treatment from China in winning intellectual property protection, it would be a violation of the Constitution, which bars federal officials from accepting gifts from foreign governments unless approved by Congress.
An attorney for Ivanka Trump said she has no role in her company’s trademark filings. “She left her company in January and she does not know what is filed, where it is filed, or whether it is approved or rejected,” attorney Jamie Gorelick said. “She has not sought, and would not want, any special treatment for the company.”
“The brand has filed, updated, and rigorously protected its international trademarks over the past several years, which included those filed in China” since 2016, Abigail Klem, the president of Ivanka Trump’s brand, said in a statement Friday. She said a surge in trademark filings by “unrelated third parties trying to capitalize on the name” emphasizes the need to protect the trademark.
In an interview with CBS This Morning earlier this month, Ivanka Trump said she understands the “obligation on me to avoid conflicts of interest, and I take that seriously.”
Ivanka Trump also said she avoids the appearance of any conflict of interest with foreign leaders attempting to curry favor with her father’s administration, claiming she doesn’t know who stays at the hotel, or when.
“I think just generally, you can create so many hypotheticals around how someone could benefit or not benefit,” she said. “And all I can do is follow the guidance of outside counsel who told me how to structure these assets based on fact pattern.”
After the election, Ivanka’s name took on new commercial glamour for Chinese copycats who filed hundreds of applications for trademarks on variations of Ivanka Trump’s name in English and Mandarin, covering an unlikely array of goods, including toothpaste, diapers, diet pills and biscuits.
Trademarks form the bedrock of a brand, offering potentially valuable monopoly rights to sell branded product in a country, and companies take out trademarks for a variety of reasons. Many countries, like China, which generally awards trademarks on a first-come-first-served basis, also allow for defensive filings, to block squatters from using a brand inappropriately. Some trademark lawyers also advise clients to take out trademarks for goods that are manufactured in China, but not sold there.
The ramp-up in China trademark filings last year by Ivanka Trump’s brand cover the use of her name in both English and Mandarin for a wide range of things including jewelry, clothing, shoes, spa and beauty services, perfume, cosmetics, retailing and leather bags. All the applications were made before her father was elected president, according to the Trademark Office database.
If no one objects to the legitimate Ivanka Trump trademarks provisionally approved during the Mar-a-Lago summit, they will be officially registered after 90 days. In total, since the inauguration, China has granted preliminary approval for at least five Ivanka marks, though approval for one of them was subsequently withdrawn without explanation, according to China’s trademark gazette. China’s Trademark Office could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Ivanka Trump’s brand doesn’t have much of a retail presence in China.
That’s not what China’s state-run Global Times newspaper led readers to believe this week, in a story that had several factual errors. Global Times splashed a story across the front-page of the business section of its English-language edition Thursday claiming that Ivanka’s brand was preparing a large expansion in China and that her “amiable attitude toward China,” would help her business flourish.
Klem said the report in the Global Times is “not accurate, and as we have previously explained, all of our new agreements are subject to approval by ethics counsel.”
Celebrities have a significant influence in the Chinese market. “Her father is the president, which is a better selling point. It shows her status, and she has a higher business value,” said Hao Junbo, a lawyer at Hao Law Firm in Beijing, who was also quoted in the Global Times story, told the AP. “Chinese people like power. It is a deep mindset among the public that power is bigger than the law.”
Chang Tsi & Partners, which represents Ivanka Trump’s brand in China, said it had never been contacted by the Global Times and declined further comment on client matters.
The Ivanka Trump brand also applied for nine new trademarks in Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Canada and the U.S. after her father was elected president. “These and other filings in other countries are made in the normal course of business for any company in these categories,” Klem said.