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China greenlights a batch of Ivanka Trump trademark applications

China greenlights a batch of Ivanka Trump trademark applications
Ivanka Trump stands beside her father, President Trump, while speaking at a political rally in Cleveland on Monday. (Jim Watson / AFP/Getty Images)

October brought bleak news for many American companies doing business in China, with tariffs rising and bilateral relations plummeting.

But it brought good news for Ivanka Trump.

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On Oct. 13, Chinese regulators awarded Ivanka Trump Marks LLC preliminary approval on 16 trademark applications that were first submitted in early 2016, online filings with the Chinese trademark office show. For President Trump's daughter, who is also a White House senior advisor, the approval was the crucial step toward letting her market a bevy of goods in China under her name, from cosmetics and sunglasses to semiconductors and voting machines.

Ethics watchdogs have long warned about the possibility of foreign governments seeking to curry favor with President Trump through his family's extensive business interests, and Ivanka Trump appeared to acknowledge the potential for conflict in her dual roles as White House official and international entrepreneur in July, when she shut down her namesake fashion line.

But the recent approvals are a reminder of the Chinese government's knack for making well-timed decisions when it comes to Trump family businesses — even if it's just coincidence, as Chinese experts say.

The October decisions were the largest batch of approvals for Ivanka Trump since her father entered the White House, and they came as he was locked in a trade standoff with China, according to Caroline Zhang of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, who first pointed out the updated filings this week.

"Since she has retained her foreign trademarks, the public will continue to have to ask whether President Trump has made foreign policy decisions in the interest of his and his family's businesses," Zhang wrote.

The approvals were granted 2½ years after Ivanka Trump's company applied, which is far longer than the average processing time of a year or less, said Hao Junbo, a trademark lawyer at the Beijing Hao Law Firm.

"It's impossible to rule out political factors because the approval period indeed took quite long, and the timing of it came just right," Hao said, referring to the premise that Beijing made a conciliatory gesture after trade frictions took a marked turn for the worse in September.

"On the other hand," Hao added, "there's no evidence of anything unusual. With these matters, you could never confirm one narrative or another."

Because of the scattershot nature of the applications, the 16 bids that China greenlighted gave Ivanka Trump a foothold in a wide variety of markets. She is now poised to hold trademarks for senior homes and lightning diffusing machines; for batteries, wedding gowns and sausage casings.

All told, China has approved more than 30 of her trademark applications.

Earlier this year, other trademark decisions for the Trump family appeared to land with uncanny timing.

In May, China awarded Ivanka Trump seven trademarks around the time President Trump worked to save a Chinese state-owned telecom equipment maker from going bust. Last year, Ivanka Trump's clothing line received three trademarks the day she dined with Chinese President Xi Jinping at President Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate.

And in a rare move, China reversed its decision to reject nine Donald Trump trademarks last year, the Associated Press found.

When Ivanka Trump shut down her brand in July, a person familiar with the situation said company lawyers intended to continue seeking trademarks in China to prevent her name from being exploited.

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Ethics experts argued that the moves would lay the groundwork for Ivanka Trump to pursue lucrative business opportunities in China after her father leaves office. They said this poses conflicts of interest for the White House regardless of whether she is stepping away from her company.

Whatever Ivanka Trump's motives, Charles Feng, a lawyer at East & Concord in Beijing, said the practice of "trademark squatting" — firms applying for valuable trademarks with tenuous or nonexistent connections to the name — is real in China, and highly widespread.

A government database shows that more than 500 trademark applications have been made with either Ivanka Trump's name in Roman letters or Chinese characters. The real Ivanka Trump submitted 53 of the applications, records show, while Chinese companies and individuals lodged the rest.

Most of those poured in in early 2016, during the early months of President Trump's term, when the unorthodox president and his family became the subject of fascination on Chinese social media.

Those applicants for Ivanka trademarks include farming equipment manufacturers, asset managers, electronics makers and biotechnology firms. An investment advisor in eastern China and a Beijing fat-loss company submitted 20 applications — each — to use her name. A financial company wanted to register "Ivankarabella," a mash-up of the names of Ivanka Trump and her daughter, Arabella Kushner.

"The squatters are really a problem in China, and the authorities get a ton of applications every day," said Feng, the lawyer with East and Concord. "But they have a lot of authority and flexibility over how they approve them."

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