US President Donald Trump Photo: Xinhua
US President Donald Trump has won the right to use his name as the trademark of building construction services in China, a move which experts said was in line with relevant Chinese laws and should not be interpreted as an indication of bilateral relations.
The 10-year right to use the trademark was supposed to take effect on Tuesday, three months after the State Administration of Commerce and Industry announced on November 13 that Trump's application for the "TRUMP" trademark had passed a preliminary review and would seek public feedback for three months.
The registration signals the first trademark Trump has been granted in China during his presidency, following decade-long efforts to "wrest back" his name from a Chinese citizen named Dong Wei, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday.
Dong filed the trademark application in December 2006 for use in the decoration and repair of residential properties and hotels, which was two weeks earlier than that of Trump.
As a result, Chinese authorities turned down Trump's application due to the "first come, first serve" mechanism.
Since then, Trump has appealed to the Trademark Review and Adjudication Board (TRAB), and after being rejected, he brought the case to the Beijing No.1 Intermediate People's Court and Beijing High People's Court, arguing that he was famous enough to "defend his own name from Chinese individuals who seek to trade off his reputation." His appeals were turned down as well.
The last ruling against Trump was in May 2015. Trump again brought the case to the TRAB in June and won, according to financial news website caixin.com.
Limited political implications
Zhou Dandan, a lawyer from the Beijing-based Unitalen Attorneys at Law who handled the case, said that the decision was based on Chinese trademark law. "Under the regulation, other individuals except the person himself are forbidden from registering the names of prominent political, economic, and religious figures," Zhou told the Global Times on Thursday.
Trump was little-known in China 10 years ago, and the trademark registered by Dong was not linked to the US president at that time, she noted. But when Trump became president, "abundant evidence became available invalidating Dong's trademark," Zhou said.
Trump's right to use his name in construction services after many years of failure has sparked concerns in the US over whether the ruling has broader political implications.
Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that "any special treatment from China would mean that Trump effectively accepted a present from Beijing, an act that would violate the constitution."
But Zhao Zhanling, legal counsel of the Beijing-based Internet Society of China, said that such concerns are overblown, as the "TRUMP" trademark is not that significant to the Trump Organization.
"The company has not marched into the Chinese market, and is not likely to do so during Trump's presidency, as its operation focuses on real estate development, which is a complicated business in China involving acquiring land and obtaining certificates from local authorities," Zhao told the Global Times on Tuesday.
"So what is the significance of giving a gift that brings virtually no benefits to Trump's conglomerate?" Zhao asked.
The Associated Press also cited analysts as saying that bilateral relations also "played a role" in China's granting of the trademark to Donald Trump.
Trump has recently softened his stance on China. Last week, Trump agreed to support the one-China policy in a telephone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
However, experts noted that a trademark weighs "as light as a feather" in China-US relations. "It is fairer to say that economic and trade relations, such as the imposition of anti-dumping tariffs, are areas reflective of bilateral relations."
In December, basketball legend Michael Jordan won a trademark battle against China-based Qiaodan Sports Co, which sounds like Jordan in Putonghua.
Impact on domestic brands
Domestic products such as toilets, pacemakers, poker and condoms whose trademarks sound similar to Trump are likely to take a hit following the case, experts warned.
Shenzhen-based Chuangpu Industrial Co, which makes Trump-brand luxury toilets, is one of the potential victims. The company's spokesperson, who preferred not to be identified, told the Global Times on Thursday that the company will "seek friendly communications" with Trump to defend its right if the US president files a case against the toilet manufacturer.
He stressed that the company's brand dates back to 2001, when Trump was little known in China.
When it expands overseas, Chuangpu Industrial will "adjust its brand name accordingly," he said.