The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
A couple of weeks ago, I noted that the China Trademark Office, a week after President Trump's election, had granted—after several prior rejections—Trump's application for a trademark in "Trump Construction Services." I argued that it was an "emolument"—a benefit provided by a foreign state, which Trump received in violation of the Constitution's foreign emoluments clause:
No Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States] shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State. [Art. I, sec. 9; emphasis added]
As I noted at the time, Trump had around 50 other trademark applications awaiting action at the agency, and a couple of days ago the agency announced that it had granted 38 of them. According to the Daily Telegraph (London), the trademarks cover use of the "Trump" name for businesses "including branded spas, massage parlors, golf clubs, hotels, insurance, finance and real estate companies, retail shops, restaurants, bars, and private bodyguard and escort services."
So there we are. Not only is our president accepting valuable property rights from foreign governments in violation of an express constitutional provision, he is now positioned to offer Trump(tm) Massage Parlors and Trump ™ Escort Services in the world's most populous country.
Now, to be fair to Trump—and notwithstanding what I know some readers think, I do want to be fair, and to appeal to other fair-minded people in my disgust at our president's behavior—these trademarks may be purely "defensive" in nature. That is, Trump may be trying to reserve these marks not because he intends to go into the massage parlor or escort service business, but in order to prevent someone else from going into those businesses and using his name without his permission (and without paying him any licensing royalties).
But on the other hand, would anyone be surprised if he did license out the Trump name to a chain of Chinese massage parlors? The answer to that, I think, has to be no—another sign of the effect that Trump is having on the perceived dignity of the highest office in the land.