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Trump's Past Trademark Dispute with China Raises Concern

By Wei Hu December 06, 2016

A decade-long trademark dispute between U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and China has attracted wide media attention since the real estate mogul and reality television star won the Nov. 8 election.

Trump filed a Chinese trademark application in December 2006 for the word "Trump" in Class 37, covering myriad commercial and residential real estate services such as building construction, repairs, and heating and air circulation systems installation.

A man named Dong Wei, however, had filed an application for "Trump" in the same category just days ahead of him.

After Donald Trump's application was rejected by the Chinese Trademark Office, he appealed to the Trademark Review and Adjudication Board (TRAB) and lost. Then he sued TRAB in the Beijing Intermediate People's Court.

The court dismissed his case, citing Article 28 of China's Trademark Law that disallows identical or similar trademark registration.

In May 2015, the Beijing Higher People's Court sustained the original ruling by the lower court.

On Tuesday, Zhou Dandan, a Beijing-based lawyer who represented Trump in the trademark case, noted it was not surprising that Dong succeeded in keeping his trademark because although Trump and his services have been world famous, they were not a household name in China back in 2006.

Andy Sun, executive director of the Hawaii-based Asia Pacific Legal Institute, added that under Chinese trademark law, domain names are registered on a first-come, first-served basis.

Ruling in Trump's favor

After several failed attempts to register his trademark, Trump sought to invalidate some of Dong Wei's trademark services in Class 37 that had been left unused.

In September 2016, the TRAB ruled in Trump's favor, invalidating Dong's mark with respect to everything except mining and drilling.

Trump's new mark was published in the Trademark Gazette on Nov. 13, and it will proceed to registration within three months if no one files an opposition.

Judging from a letter Trump sent to former U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke in 2011, some analysts are now wondering whether the trademark disputes will have any negative impact on U.S. trade policy toward China, especially in the area of intellectual property protection, once Trump takes office in January.

In the letter, Trump asked Locke to intervene on his behalf in a lawsuit he brought against a Macau coffee shop that had registered the word "Trump."

'Faithless, corrupt and tainted'

Trump also called China's entire judicial system "faithless, corrupt and tainted," and urged other countries to refrain from any trade practice or business relationships with China.

Sun, of the Asia Pacific Legal Institute, however, urged the public to take a wait-and-see approach about Trump's trade policy toward China.

He told VOA that if Trump quits the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, as he promised during the presidential campaign, many countries could be pushed to join the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, in which requirements for intellectual property protection are much less stringent than those in the TPP.

It is difficult for Trump to strike a subtle balance amid all the entanglements, Sun said.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Mandarin Service.

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