BEIJING — President Donald Trump has won preliminary approval to register 27 new trademarks in China for industries including restaurants and advertising, business interests that could add to criticism over his potential conflicts.
As a businessman, Trump has amassed a vast portfolio of trademarks around the world, as he seeks to protect his brands and his products. Those trademarks, at times, clash with the vision of a populist president who has espoused a strategy of “America First.”
China has been among the biggest targets for his business prospects. Including the latest batch, his companies have filed for at least 126 trademarks in China since 2005 for restaurants, bars, hotels, brokerage services, advertising and management consulting.
The timing of the new trademarks could create a perception problem for Trump because they came so soon after he took office.
In February, the Chinese government announced that it was granting Trump the right to protect his name brand for construction projects, after a decadelong legal battle. That trademark approval was announced just days after Trump pulled back from his challenge to China’s policy on Taiwan in a call with Xi Jinping, the Chinese president.
The latest trademarks, which were under the name “Donald J. Trump,” were initially approved for use in golf clubs, insurance services, child-care centers and nursing homes, among other categories. They will be formally registered three months later, if the agency receives no objections. The Associated Press reported earlier about the trademarks.
Matthew Dresden, a lawyer with Harris Bricken in Seattle who specializes in Chinese intellectual property law, said it was atypical that all the trademarks were “approved at once.”
“I think that’s really odd. That makes you look and think: ‘Somebody got some instructions at the trademark office that these should be approved,’” Dresden said. “It’s unusual for that many trademarks to go through the examination process without any problems.”
Scott Palmer, an intellectual property lawyer at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, which represents U.S. corporations in China, played down the significance of the timing, emphasizing that the country’s law specifies that the trademark office should complete its examination of a filing within nine months. Trump had registered the trademarks last April, before he was elected.
“There’s nothing inherent in that timing that is questionable or strange or should be viewed as out of the ordinary,” Palmer said. “The Trademark Office has been working on getting this timing right for a few years now, and the fact that they are hitting the target doesn’t mean they are likely to have played favorites.”
Critics say Trump’s trail of trademarks could leave the president vulnerable to potential conflicts of interest. In February, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., sounded alarms about China’s decision to award Trump his trademark in construction services, saying it could be a breach of the U.S. Constitution and that foreign governments could use his trademarks to influence foreign policy decisions.
It is unclear whether the Trump Organization will profit from the new trademarks in China. While the company has pursued a large number of hotel development deals in the country, one of its executives recently suggested that the organization would drop those projects.
A spokeswoman for the Trump Organization did not immediately comment.
In recent years, China has enhanced its trademark laws to bring them more in line with the international legal system. In January, China’s top court said that celebrity names cannot be registered as trademarks in ways that could mislead consumers. The interpretation came a month after the court ruled largely in favor of Michael Jordan, the former basketball star, in a landmark decision that sets the ground rules for protecting personal names in trademark cases.
In a recent interview, Spring Chang, founder of Chang Tsi & Partners, a law firm in Beijing that represents the Trump Organization, said she did not want to comment on Trump’s specific trademarks. But she said she encouraged a “defensive strategy” for her clients to prevent a celebrity’s name from becoming treated as a generic term.
Asked whether Trump plans to sue people who have registered his name as trademarks in China, Chang, who also represents Lady Gaga and Linkin Park in the country, said: “We haven’t discussed our strategy with him. As you know, he’s very, very busy.”