From Trump, the Nationalist, a Trail of Global Trademarks
“Trump seems to be the archetypal businessman with mercantilist instincts,” Dani Rodrik, a professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, said in an email. “‘Open your market for me to do business in it, but you can have access to mine only on my terms.’”
The trademarks are the natural outgrowth of a global-spanning strategy. Like any businessman, Mr. Trump has long sought to protect his brand and products legally with trademarks, whether by registering a board game he once tried to sell, slogans like “Make America Great Again” or simply the name “Trump.”
But the trail of trademarks offers further clues to his international business ties, which leave the president vulnerable to potential conflicts of interest, or at least perception challenges. The Chinese government’s trademark announcement last week came just days after Mr. Trump retreated from challenging China’s policy on Taiwan in a call with China’s president, Xi Jinping.
The Times review of nine databases identified nearly 400 foreign trademarks registered to Trump companies since 2000 in 28 countries, among them New Zealand, Egypt and Russia, as well as the European Union. There are most likely many more trademarks, because there is no central repository of all trademarks from every country. The Trump Organization has been filing trademarks for decades, and has said that it has taken out trademarks in more than 80 countries.
“Over the last 20-plus years, the Trump Organization has filed trademarks in numerous locations,” the company said in a statement. “Although the company will not be doing any new international deals, it will continue to take steps to protect its various brands.”
The organization did not address specific questions posed about deals that emerged from the trademarks.
Some of the trademarks hinted at previously unknown foreign forays. While Mr. Trump assailed Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign for her connections to Brunei, he explored opportunities in the country, taking out a trademark covering several categories used for real estate projects, the review showed.
The Trump Organization also has international designs for its new Scion hotel brand. The organization took out trademarks last year for Scion in Indonesia, the European Union, China and Canada, though an executive recently said expanding domestically would be the focus while Mr. Trump is in office.
Sometimes Mr. Trump’s trademarks are markers for ventures that never materialized or construction projects underway where he is licensing his name. Other times they appear to be part of a defensive strategy to ward off copyright infringement.
Some trademarks reinforce that for Mr. Trump, the “art of the deal” has often proved elusive overseas. His record is littered with numerous failed or stalled projects, including development deals in Cozumel and Baja California, Mexico, in Russia and in Brazil.
A number of his trademarks are curiosities. He took out a European Union trademark for “Numquam Concedere,” Latin for “Never Give Up,” which is part of the crest at one of his Scottish golf courses. His Israeli trademarks highlight that his failed Trump vodka was revived in Israel, where the brand was licensed by another company and made with potatoes and not grain, helping its popularity among observant Jews during Passover.
And while Mr. Trump is known to be involved in a high-rise project in India, he also has a trademark there in a category that covers laundry detergent, perfume and soaps. It is not clear if he envisions himself an Indian soap king or was simply laying down markers for branded products in his developments.
What will become of all the overseas ventures remains unclear. Mr. Trump has said he is turning over control of his businesses to his two eldest sons, though he remains closely tied to his empire.
Foreign entanglements led a group of former White House ethics lawyers and constitutional scholars to file suit, charging that Mr. Trump is violating the Constitution by allowing his businesses to receive payments from foreign governments. The president’s lawyers have disputed the merits of the suit.
Concerns about benefits flowing from foreign governments to the Trump Organization have generally focused on payments and large loans held by lenders like the Bank of China. But trademarks, too, could pose problems.
“We’re not talking about an isolated situation where some government official has won longstanding protection for a book he wrote in a far-off land some time ago,” said Norman L. Eisen, an Obama administration ethics lawyer who is part of the group that filed suit.
“We’re talking about a candidate who was aggressively seeking large quantities of these foreign government intellectual property protections during the campaign, and who through the businesses he will continue to own will not only seek to maintain but expand those, presumably,” Mr. Eisen said.
Mr. Trump’s sons have said they will forgo new foreign deals and drop some existing overseas projects, including a stalled development deal in the Republic of Georgia that ignited renewed interest after the election.
But there are already some signs of continued growth overseas. Mr. Trump’s organization recently took steps to build a new 18-hole golf course in Scotland as an expansion of one of its two existing resorts in the country.
Being an “America First” president with a past as a globe-trotting businessman can make for problematic appearances.
That was underscored after Mr. Trump signed an executive order barring immigrants from seven nations with majority Muslim populations. While the Obama administration had lesser restrictions on the same list of countries, Mr. Trump was criticized for excluding nations with which he is known to have pursued business interests, like Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Mr. Trump registered eight trademarks in Egypt in 2007, mostly related to what appears to be an abortive golf resort venture. A campaign filing last year revealed his involvement in several companies set up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Mr. Trump has also made corporate plays in places that have been in his political sights. During the campaign, he assailed Mrs. Clinton and her family foundation for taking donations from Brunei, whose government, he said, “has pushed oppressive Shariah law, including the punishment of death by stoning for being gay.”
But Mr. Trump himself has had an eye on the country, taking out a trademark there in 2007 covering categories that included contracting, financing and engineering services, records show.
Dana E. Stewart, president of Global Trademarks Inc., the firm that filed the Brunei trademarks, said in an interview: “I would have no idea of the purpose and the nature of the filing. We are instructed to file and we do that.”
As for Mexico, though Mr. Trump is moving forward aggressively with his plan to build a wall along its border with the United States, the country has been one of his most frequent business targets over the years. In the last decade, his company filed 25 trademarks, including some for two failed resort ventures as well as his Donald J. Trump Signature Collection clothing line, alcohol and furniture.
In China, the large number of trademarks filed during the campaign were in categories including restaurants, bars, hotels, brokerage services, advertising and management consulting.
Spring Chang, founder of Chang Tsi & Partners, a Beijing-based law firm that has represented the Trump Organization, said she did not want to comment on Mr. 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.
While the Trump Organization has battled for years over infringements on its name in the country, it has also pursued a large number of hotel development deals in China, though one of his executives recently suggested that the organization would drop those projects.
But his strategy in the country certainly has not been entirely defensive. “Made a lot of money in China,” he once boasted during the campaign, adding, “I deal with Europe, I deal with Asia, I deal with China all the time.”
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