SHANGHAI – The government of China awarded U.S. President Donald Trump valuable rights to his own name this week, in the form of a 10-year trademark for construction services.
The registration became official on Feb. 14 and was published in a trademark registration announcement on the website of China’s Trademark Office on Wednesday.
This may well be the first foreign trademark to be handed to Trump during his presidency, but is unlikely to be the last. In China alone he has 49 pending trademark applications and 77 marks already registered in his own name, most of which will come up for renewal during his term.
Critics say Trump’s global intellectual property interests could be used by foreign states as leverage over the president and may violate the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution, which bars public servants from accepting anything of value from foreign governments unless explicitly approved by Congress. These concerns are particularly sharp in China, where the courts and bureaucracy reflect the will of the ruling Communist Party.
The registration this week came as a surprise win for Trump after a decade of trying – and failing – to wrest the rights to his name back from a man named Dong Wei. The abrupt turn in Trump’s bureaucratic fortunes once he declared his candidacy has raised questions about the extent to which his political status may be helping his family business.
Any special treatment from China would mean that Trump effectively accepted a present from Beijing, an act that would violate the Constitution, Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, said in an email. “A different conclusion might be reached if Trump had been treated like everyone else seeking a trademark, but the evidence does not point in that direction.”
Alan Garten, chief legal officer of The Trump Organization, said Trump’s trademark activity in China predates his election. Trump has turned management of his company over to his children and a team of executives in order to remove himself from his business and its trademark portfolio, he added.
China’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce, which oversees the Trademark Office, and the foreign ministry could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
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