Ivanka Trump in China: The trademarks raising an ethics firestorm

Last Updated May 30, 2018 7:15 AM EDT

Ivanka Trump this month received trademark approval from China for a broad array of items, including baby blankets, wallpaper and carpets. That wouldn't be unusual for a global business built on consumer goods such as elegant women's clothing and shoes, but it raises numerous ethical issues given that her father is the U.S. president. 

The timing appears especially fraught given President Donald Trump agreed to rescue Chinese telecom giant ZTE Corp. shortly after Ivanka Trump's brand was awarded the trademarks. 

Ethics watchdogs say the approvals are problematic on a number of levels, including Ivanka Trump's role representing the U.S. at diplomatic events even though her brand's business could be impacted -- for good or bad -- by relations with foreign nations. Then there's also the conflicts that arise from her father's role as president amid rising trade tensions between the U.S. and China.

"Although Ivanka has stepped down from her role at her business and has placed it in a trust, she continues to receive profits from the business," the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington wrote in a blog post about the trademarks

It added, "Last year, Ivanka's business won preliminary approval for three trademarks on the same day that she dined with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago. Earlier this year, Trump announced tariffs against China that exempted clothing — including clothing imports from Ivanka's Chinese manufacturers."

Some foreign governments may see Ivanka Trump's business as a "way to curry favor with President Trump," wrote Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, and Norman Eisen, chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, at Yahoo News

"When foreign governments do business with Ivanka Trump, they know that they are dealing with the favored daughter of the U.S. president who also works in her father's White House," they noted. 

To be sure, Ivanka Trump's brand has dozens of trademarks both in and outside the U.S. While the timing may look odd given President Trump's remarks about ZTE, the brand applied for the trademarks well before the current heated trade dispute. 

Below are 4 things to know about Ivanka Trump's brand and the new trademarks.

What type of Ivanka Trump items received trademarks from China?

The new Chinese trademarks are for a range of household and consumer products, including baby blankets, towels, curtains, picture frames, furniture and rugs. 

Why does Ivanka Trump's brand say it needs the trademarks?

Abigail Klem, the president of Ivanka Trump, said in a statement that the trademarks were needed to fend off copycat products "in regions where trademark infringement is rampant." She added, "We have recently seen a surge in trademark filings by unrelated third parties trying to capitalize on the name and it is our responsibility to diligently protect our trademark. "

So what exactly does the Ivanka Trump brand sell? 

The brand is primarily known for women's clothing and shoes, rather than the household items that the company received trademarks for in China. In the U.S., her products include $300 handbags and costume jewelry. 

When did the Ivanka Trump brand apply for the trademarks? 

The trademarks were applied for in March 2017, according to the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Officials in China typically take about 18 months to approve trademarks, which make the approvals "very fast," East & Concord Partners intellectual property division expert Charles Feng told The New York Times