California Intellectual Property Blog


Trump Trademark Victory in China Sparks Ethics Questions

Orange County – Last week, China’s trademark review board awarded President Trump and his organization a trademark that Trump had been seeking for nearly a decade. Namely, the Trump organization has been awarded trademark protection for the use of the Trump name in the construction industry. China’s action, coupled with Trump’s decision to place his assets in a trust run by his adult sons, has sparked an ethical predicament that is drawing sharp debate.

The crux of the argument is whether President Trump is in violation of the foreign emoluments clause of the Constitution. Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the Constitutional Clause reads as follows: “… no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

An emolument is, per Webster’s Dictionary, an advantage. The Trump Organization stands to gain a business advantage from the trademark committee’s decision. As President Trump still has ties to his organization through his sons, President Trump stands to gain financially from China’s action.

The timing of China’s decision is the cause for concern. The Trump Organization fought for this trademark, unsuccessfully, for nearly ten years. Then, in September of 2016, during Trump’s rise in political status in America, China reversed its longstanding position on the trademark. The question is, why? “China is going to want concessions from Mr. Trump, and this is now the first in what will be a series of efforts to influence him” stated Norman Eisen, a White House ethics counsel under President Obama.
The Trump Organization lawyers are objecting to the claim that President Trump will be influenced through China’s decision. They argue instead, that the Trump organization is merely protecting its trademark from someone who had been “squatting” on it improperly.

Furthermore, they argue that China’s decision had less to do with influencing the Presidency, and more to do with the rise in Trump’s fame. As Trump is now more famous in China, his fame gives him a stronger claim to the brand oversees.

Also, it is possible that the decision is another in a growing list of instances where China’s trademark committee has ruled in favor of Western Companies. As an example, in December of 2016 a Chinese Court found in favor of the American basketball star Michael Jordan. The ruling ordered a Chinese competitor to stop using a brand that rendered the basketball star’s name in Chinese characters.


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