President-elect Fights to Protect Trump Trademark in China
BEIJING—Thirty-six-year-old Mao Yongjin says he has worshipped Donald Trump since he first watched The Apprentice in graduate school. So when it came time to set up his own company selling skin-care products, there was only one name he wanted for the men’s line.
At the beginning of this year, he filed a trademark application.
“I really hoped there could be Trump beauty cream, Trump moisturizing lotion, Trump anti-aging and brightening serum and Trump balm,” he said. “But his winning the election isn’t necessarily good news for me. I guess my trademark application won’t pass now.”
Mao is one of dozens of Chinese people who have tried to trademark the Trump name in China over the years, some in direct reference to the American property-mogul-turned-politician, others just because they like the sound of the name.
Many have been successful. There are trademarks registered for Trump condoms, Trump toilets, Trump pesticide and Trump paint, none bearing any direct business relation to the next U.S. president.
But Donald Trump is fighting back, and he appears to be intensifying a long struggle to protect his brand name here. As he becomes a household name in China, he seems to be having more success.
Over the past 10 years, he has lodged 126 trademark applications in China for the TRUMP name, on everything from pet-care products to computer software to lingerie to golf clubs, according to records at the Trademark Office of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce.
This year alone, 34 applications have been filed.
In September, he won a decade-long battle to wrest the “TRUMP” trademark from a Chinese citizen for the provision of “commercial, residential hotels and immovable property,” the latter a term referring to real estate.
His initial application had been rejected by the trademark bureau in 2006 because a man named Dong Wei had already secured the trademark for a similar purpose, his Chinese attorneys said.
Trump’s application went to appeal, then to the Beijing’s No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court and finally Beijing’s Supreme People’s Court. He lost every time.
Then, in September 2016, the trademark bureau finally relented, declaring Dong Wei’s trademark invalid. On Nov. 13, just days after Trump’s election win, his application was finally accepted and it will be formally registered three months later — unless further objections are received. (The Trump Organization declined to comment.)
Trump’s new-found fame in China played an indirect role in his trademark victory, Zhou Dandan of Unitalen Attorneys at Law in Beijing said. Dandan acted on his behalf.
“Because of the election, Trump is widely known to the Chinese people,” she said. “This meets the requirement of the law: That the duplicated name of a public figure as a trademark is not allowed, as it will create confusion to the public and be negative to the figure.”
So why is the Trump name so popular here?
Mao’s skin-care products don’t give your face an orangey tan, and his plans for Trump shampoo and conditioner were not an homage to the politician’s carefully crafted thatch, but a tribute to his hero’s personality and character.
“I really like his macho and decisive manner. He is brave in saying what he thinks; he is a role model for men,” Mao said. “I agree with most of his policies and beliefs, especially on Muslim people. There is too much terrorism in the world, and it is very clear who is behind it.”
But other people, like Wu Yue, manager of an investment consulting company in Shanghai, said he had applied to use the Trump name because he thought it had an auspicious ring to it.
“I wasn’t thinking about Donald Trump,” he said. “I just thought that ‘trump’ — as in playing cards — would bring good luck.”
Wu’s application — for a financial consulting service — was rejected last month on the grounds that it was an ambiguous and empty term and would be like taking out a trademark for the brand name “Good.”
“You can’t call yourself ‘good’ when other people don’t know if you are good or not,” he says the trademark bureau told him. “You can’t use ‘trump’ when other people don’t know if you truly possess the quality of ‘trump.’ ”
But the Shenzhen Trump Industrial Co. has had a happier experience with the brand name. It has been selling Trump toilets and urinals since 2002, before it even knew there was a person called Donald Trump and now has 2,000 employees, company’s founder Zhong Jiye said.
Customers in China include airports, hospitals and spas — as well as Zhongnanhai, the high-security government headquarters in the heart of Beijing where President Xi Jinping is believed to live.
The company also exports to the Middle East and Europe, Zhong said, adding that sales have risen sharply in the past few months.
“It is just a psychological effect,” he said. “People think our brand’s name sounds similar to Donald Trump, and they are interested, because they want to sit on a toilet or use a urinal that has the name of the U.S. president.”