Ethics watchdogs have long warned about the possibility of foreign governments seeking to curry favor with President Donald Trump through his family's extensive business interests.
HONG KONG — Ivanka Trump-branded semiconductors and voting machines? In China?
That’s an odd, if remote, possibility after Chinese trademark regulators awarded preliminary approval for 16 trademark applications from the president’s daughter and White House senior adviser, online Chinese government filings show.
The approvals by Beijing on Oct. 13 were notable for their timing, coming just as Chinese and U.S. officials were seeking to restart trade talks that had collapsed amid acrimony. They also raised eyebrows for covering a grab-bag of products, including electoral hardware in a country not exactly known for its elections.
Ethics watchdogs have long warned about the possibility of foreign governments seeking to curry favor with President Donald 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.
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But the recent approvals are a reminder of the Chinese government’s knack for making uncannily 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 (CREW) in Washington, D.C., who first pointed out the updated filings.
“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 2 1/2 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 Hao Law Firm in Beijing.
“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.”
Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Abbe Lowell, Ivanka Trump’s ethics attorney, said the applications were filed well before her father’s election victory.
“These trademarks were sought to broadly protect Ms. Trump’s name, and to prevent others from stealing her name and using it to sell their products,” he said. “This is a common trademark practice, which is why the trademark applications were granted.”
Given the scattershot nature of the applications, the 16 bids that China greenlighted in October gave Ivanka Trump a foothold in a sprawling number of markets. She is now poised to hold trademarks for senior homes and veterinary services; for batteries, wedding gowns and sausage casings.
All told, China has approved more than 30 of her trademark applications.
Jordan Libowitz, of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, said the group’s data showed that some Ivanka Trump applications have taken even longer to process.
“We obviously do not know the reason behind the timing, although some others have suspiciously lined up with events involving the Trump administration,” Libowitz said.
In May, China awarded Ivanka Trump seven trademarks around the same time that President Trump worked to save a Chinese state-owned telecom equipment maker when it was on the verge of going bust from U.S. sanctions. Last year, Ivanka Trump’s clothing line received three trademarks on the same day she dined with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the president’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 told The Washington Post that company lawyers intended to continue seeking trademarks in China to protect her name from exploitation
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 Partners 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 during the early months of 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 farm-equipment manufacturers, asset managers, electronics makers and biotechnology firms. An investment adviser in eastern China and a Beijing weight-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.
“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 Partners. “But they have a lot of authority and flexibility over how they approve them.”
Lyric Li contributed to this report.