Saturday, March 11, 2017

Registered Trademarks & the Emoluments Clause

Registered trademarks are a great way to make money.  If you have a well-known name, like President 45, you can make millions by trademarking your own name.  Last month, the government of China gave preliminary approval to one registered trademark by President 45, and it pretty much sailed by unnoticed.  That trademark was for construction services businesses.  Two days ago, China announced the preliminary approval of 38 new trademark registrations for the circus peanut, which raised quite a few eyebrows.  These trademark applications were made in April of 2016, when the US Presidential election was running hot and heavy.
   The newest approved trademarks cover a wide variety of businesses: spa and massage services; golf clubs; hotels, which include escort services; insurance companies; financial companies; real estate companies; restaurants; bars; and a trademark classification that includes bodyguards, concierge services, and social escorts.  Three of the approvals use the name Scion, which is the name of the President's sons line of hotels.
   All thirty-nine trademarks were granted to a company registered in Delaware as DTTM Operations LLC.  Unless someone objects to the trademarks in letters addressed to China's government within 90 days of the preliminary approval, the trademarks are automatically registered as law.
   Maryland's Ben Cardin said, "For a decade prior to his election as President, DT sought, with no success, to have lucrative and valuable trademarks granted in the world's biggest market (China).  He was turned down each and every time.  The floodgates now appear to be open."  Cardin called on the federal Departments of Justice, State, and Commerce to "brief Congress, immediately, on these matters and on the potential constitutional dangers that they present."
    Ben Cardin is concerned about violations of the Emoluments Clause of the US Constitution, which bars elected leaders from taking anything of value from foreign countries, unless approved by Congress.  Dianne Feinstein of California said the trademark approvals are "exactly what the Constitution's Emoluments Clause was designed to prevent, and the President is blatantly defying it."
    Kathleen Clark, a government ethics professor at Washington University in St. Louis, told National Public Radio last month that by giving the circus peanut valuable name rights, Chinese officials may hope that they can influence policy decisions.  And that represents a breach of the Emoluments Clause, she believes.

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