Trump filed for an escort service trademark in China but not why you think.

No, Trump Is Not Starting an Escort Service in China on International Women’s Day

No, Trump Is Not Starting an Escort Service in China on International Women’s Day

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The Slatest
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March 8 2017 1:07 PM

No, Trump Is Not Starting an Escort Service in China on International Women’s Day

615527892-activists-and-volunteers-from-planned-parenthood-rally
Activists and volunteers from Planned Parenthood rally against Donald Trump across the street from the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas on Oct. 18.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that China has granted preliminary approval for more than three-dozen new Trump trademarks in the country. Many of the 38 marks align with the Trump Organization’s existing business around the globe: There are ones for golf clubs, hotels, restaurants, and real estate companies. But there is another one, though, that was getting special attention on International Women’s Day from the president’s critics: A trademark for a class of business known as “social escort and concierge services.” Is that what it sounds like? Sen. Richard Blumenthal assumed so.

While it might seem like the most Trumptastic thing of all time to trademark a new Chinese escort service on International Women’s Day, that is almost certainly not what is actually happening. For one, Trump applied for the trademark nearly a year ago, and the preliminary approval was announced several days ago. More important, though, is how Chinese IP law works. While Beijing has taken steps to tighten its trademark laws to bring them closer to those in the West in recent years, it still operates largely on a first-come-first-serve basis. This means that large corporations are well-served to file defensive trademarks simply to protect their name from being attached to a product or service they might not want to be connected to (such as, perhaps, an escort service).

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“Here, you generally have to be using the mark in connection with the covered products to obtain a registration,” William Cannon, a partner who specializes in intellectual property at the law firm Parker Poe, told me in an email. “Everywhere else, you don't, so you see a lot of defensive registrations aiming to shield brands from possible infringement. That's all he's doing.” Cannon added that filing defensive trademarks can be smart business for large corporations, particularly in big markets where counterfeiting and piracy is common.

Put another way, Trump had the choice of either trademarking a Trump escort service in China or risking someone else doing the same thing and then actually launching that service. Such fears aren’t unfounded. As the Washington Post discovered last May, an Australia-based company had already tried to capitalize on the Trump name by launching Trump International Escorts, which has no affiliation with the Trump Organization and ultimately changed its name under legal pressure. “As a company we zealously protect Mr. Trump's valuable name, brand, and trademarks,” Trump Organization lawyer Alan Garten told the paper at the time. “Unfortunately, as the brand has grown in popularity around the world, there are more and more people who have tried to trade off his name.”

The likely defensive nature of Trump’s trademarks aside, the larger development remains troubling even without escorts involved. Dan Plane, the director of the Hong Kong consulting firm Simone IP Services, told the AP that he had never seen so many applications approved so easily. “For all these marks to sail through so quickly and cleanly, with no similar marks, no identical marks, no issues with specifications—boy, it's weird,” he said.

As I explained last month after China gave Trump his long-desired trademark for construction services, the fact that the president had a legitimate claim to these trademarks doesn’t mean the U.S. Constitution’s Emoluments Clause doesn’t apply. As long as Trump owns his business, China is in a position to use trademarks as bargaining chips in matters of state, and the president will know he is negotiating with a foreign power that has the ability to directly help or harm his own personal financial fortunes. This conflict is precisely what the Emoluments Clause was intended to prevent. Less than three months into his presidency, it’s already clear President Trump is willing to use his public office for his personal gain. It would seem the only thing left to haggle over is the price.

Know anything about the Trump Organization? DM Josh Voorhees on Twitter, or email him at josh.voorhees@slate.com.

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in northeast Ohio.