US president Donald J. Trump’s swelling trademark portfolio in China has—once again—raised eyebrows over potential conflicts of interest, after the Chinese government granted him pre-approval to 35 new marks in recent weeks.
At the heart of the controversy is whether Trump has received any special treatment from Chinese authorities in nailing these trademarks, and if so whether that would reach the level of the “emoluments clause” of the US Constitution, which bars US officials from receiving gifts or fees from a foreign state without the consent of Congress.
Critics have pointed to the abrupt turn in an earlier episode of Trump’s trademark registration applications. Last November, Trump won pre-approval to register a trademark for construction services, after struggling for a decade to win back his name rights from a Chinese trademark squatter.
Did it become easier for Trump to register trademarks in China after he declared his candidacy, and even more so once he became president? Is the Chinese government trying to curry favor with Trump through trademark deals (though it has denied that)? It’s still too early to read much into these trademarks approvals, but the development is certainly worth watching. Trump now has 77 trademarks in effect in China. He is likely to register more, and is also due to renew most of the old ones during his term.
Here’s a timeline of Trump’s China trademark controversy:
- December 2006: Trump applied to register a trademark using “TRUMP” for construction services, two weeks after a Chinese guy named Dong Wei filed a similar application.
- November 2009: China’s trademark office rejected Trump’s application, after giving pre-approval for Dong’s application.
- February 2014: The trademark office rejected Trump’s appeal for re-examing the trademark dispute.
- Later in 2014: A court in Beijing rejected Trump’s appeal for re-examing the case.
- May 2015: A higher-level court in Beijing rejected Trump’s appeal in a final judgement (link in Chinese).
- June 2015: Trump filed an application to ask the trademark office to invalidate Dong’s right to use the “TRUMP” mark. Meanwhile, the trademark authority pre-approved two separate trademark applications Trump filed in 2013 and 2014.
- July 16, 2015: Trump formally announced his candidacy.
- April 15, 2016: Trump filed applications to register 42 trademarks covering everything from hotels and bars to child-care and massage services.
- June 21, 2016: Trump applied to register three trademarks in clothing and footwear.
- July 19, 2016: Trump officially became the Republican party’s nominee for president.
- Sept. 6, 2016: The Chinese trademark office nixed Dong’s right to use “TRUMP” for eight construction-related services (link in Chinese), but left intact his right to use the mark for mining and drilling services.
- Nov. 8, 2016: Trump won the election.
- Nov. 13, 2016: the trademark office granted preliminary approval for Trump to register his long-craved “TRUMP” mark for construction services.
- Feb. 10, 2016: Trump agreed to honor the “One China” policy—a climbdown from his earlier hard-line stance against Beijing—after a phone call with Chinese president Xi Jinping.
- Feb. 14, 2017: The “TRUMP” mark went into effect automatically after a three-month period, a standard process that leaves time for objections.
- Feb. 22, 2017: The trademark office rejected seven trademarks Trump filed last April.
- Feb. 27, 2017: The trademark office granted preliminary approval for nine marks Trump filed last April.
- Feb. 27, 2017: Trump met with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi at the White House, and talked about the possibility of arranging a meeting with Xi.
- March 6, 2017: The trademark office gave preliminary approval for the remaining 26 marks Trump filed last April.