Trump & China: Trademarks for Influence?

Former Chief White House Ethics Lawyer under Barack Obama, Norman Eisen is involved in a lawsuit alleging that Trump’s foreign business ties violate the U.S. Constitution. The emoluments clause of the Constitution states that public servants may not accept “items of value from foreign governments during their term unless approved by Congress.” Soon after Trump was elected, many experts had concerns about the way his business was structured. Some believed it could create a number of conflicts of interest as he performed his role as president. President Trump and his legal team have dismissed the lawsuit as “totally without merit.” They claim Trump was simply trying to reclaim the rights to use his own name to protect his business interests.

Over a decade ago Trump began a long legal battle when another Mr. Trump applied first for the trademark to use his famous last name connected to real estate projects. After suffering rejection after rejection in China’s courts, he saw his prospects change dramatically after launching his presidential campaign.

At stake are 49 pending trademark applications and 77 marks registered under his own name, most of which will come up for renewal during his term. The president could also claw back control of more than 225 Trump-related marks held or sought by others in China, for items including toilets, condoms, pacemakers and even a “Trump International Hotel.” In April of 2018, Mr. Trump received fast-track approval of 38 Chinese trademarks for businesses in a wide variety of industries: real estate, retail, security, massage parlors, and a escort service.

Countries could use Trump’s desire to control his brand to extend – or withhold – favor, especially a nation such as China where the courts and bureaucracy reflect the imperatives of the ruling Communist Party. According to attorney Norman Eisen, “It’s fair to conclude that this is an effort to influence Mr. Trump that is relatively inexpensive for the Chinese, potentially very valuable to him, but it could be very costly for the United States.”