Donald Trump

China approves 13 new Ivanka Trump trademarks in three months, raising conflict of interest questions

Ethics watchdogs have expressed concern as the US President Donald Trump’s daughter expands her business in foreign countries

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 May, 2018, 2:46am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 May, 2018, 10:32pm

Ivanka Trump’s brand continues to win foreign trademarks in China and the Philippines, adding to questions about conflicts of interest at the White House.

On Sunday, China granted the company final approval for its 13th trademark in the past three months, trademark office records show.

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In the same period, Beijing has granted the company provisional approval for another eight trademarks, which can be finalised if no objections are raised during a three-month comment period.

Taken together, the trademarks could allow her brand to market a lifetime’s worth of products in China, from baby blankets to coffins, and a host of things in between, including perfume, make-up, bowls, mirrors, furniture, books, coffee, chocolate and honey.

The daughter of US President Donald Trump stepped back from management of her brand and placed its assets in a family-run trust, but she continues to profit from the business.

“Ivanka Trump’s refusal to divest from her business is especially troubling, as the Ivanka brand continues to expand its business in foreign countries,” Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said on Monday.

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“It raises significant questions about corruption, as it invites the possibility that she could be benefiting financially from her position and her father’s presidency or that she could be influenced in her policy work by countries’ treatment of her business.”

As Trump and her father have built their global brands, largely through licensing deals, they have pursued trademarks in dozens of countries. Those global trademarks have drawn the attention of ethics lawyers because they are granted by foreign governments and can confer enormous value.

Concerns about political influence have been especially sharp in China, where the courts and bureaucracy are designed to reflect the will of the ruling Communist Party.

Chinese officials have emphasised that all trademark applications are handled in accordance with the law.

More approvals are likely to come. Online records from China’s trademark office indicate that Trump’s company last applied for trademarks – 17 of them – on March 28, 2017, the day before she took on a formal role at the White House. Those records on Monday showed at least 25 Ivanka Trump trademarks pending review, 36 active marks and eight with provisional approval.

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The World Intellectual Property Organisation’s global brand database also shows that her company, Ivanka Trump Marks LLC, won three trademarks in the Philippines after her father took office in January 2017.

Two of them that cover clothing, including lingerie and baby clothes, were filed on February 8, 2017, and registered in June and November. The third, filed on March 1, 2017, covers clothing and footwear and was registered in July.

Companies register for trademarks for a variety of reasons. They can be a sign of corporate ambition, but in many countries, like China, where trademark squatting is rampant, companies also file defensively, to block copycats from grabbing legal rights to a brand’s name.

Trademarks are classified by category and may include items that a company does not intend to market. Some trademark lawyers also advise clients to register trademarks for merchandise that is manufactured in China, even if it is not sold there.

Trump does not have a large retail presence in China, but customs records show that the bulk of her company’s US imports are shipped from China.

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The brand’s secretive Chinese supply chains have been the subject of some controversy. A year ago, three men working for China Labour Watch, a New York-based non-profit group, were arrested while investigating labour abuses at Ivanka Trump suppliers in China. After 30 days in detention, they were released on bail, but continue to live under police surveillance.

Li Qiang, the group’s founder, said on Monday that he hoped the surveillance would be lifted soon and that the case would not go to trial.

Police in Ganzhou, the eastern Chinese city where the men were detained, could not be reached for comment. The Chinese law firm that handles Ivanka Trump’s intellectual property in China also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.