Ivanka's Brand Thrives, Raising Conflict Questions, As She Takes On White House Role

Apr 20, 2017
Originally published on April 21, 2017 8:51 am
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The Chinese government approves trademarks all the time, but a set of recent approvals is raising questions. That's because they were granted quickly to someone with her own multimillion dollar company who happens to be the president's daughter. NPR's Jackie Northam reports on Ivanka Trump's new trademarks.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: The trademark registrations granted by the Chinese government cover Ivanka Trump's lines of handbags, jewelry and spa services. Peter Riebling, a trademark lawyer in Washington, D.C., says they were filed in the May-June time frame of 2016 before the U.S. presidential election.

PETER RIEBLING: And the registrations were granted right around the same time that the president of China was (laughter) visiting Mar-a-Lago, visiting the president.

NORTHAM: Riebling says it normally takes a company about 18 to 24 months for China to grant a trademark. Ivanka Trump got these ones in just nine months.

RIEBLING: Which, when I look at this, you know, the first thing I think of is that the Chinese government should be given a speeding ticket because, yeah, I just get whiplash looking at how fast these applications went by.

NORTHAM: A spokesperson for the Ivanka Trump company said in a statement to NPR that the trademark applications were defensive, a move to ward off rampant piracy of the Trump brand. Riebling says Ivanka Trump organization has 182 pending and registered trademarks scattered across nearly two dozen countries including Canada, Mexico and Russia. Her largest numbers of applications are in China and the U.S. This would not be surprising for a 35-year-old entrepreneur building a global business empire and wanting to establish or protect her brand, but it's different when your father is the U.S. president.

LARRY NOBLE: It clearly presents the appearance of potential conflicts of interest and could present real conflicts of interest.

NORTHAM: Larry Noble, general counsel of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, says the problem is Ivanka Trump still owns her company. At the same time, she's a paid adviser to the president, has an office in the White House and holds meetings with foreign leaders. Noble says neither Ivanka nor President Trump seem to have any problem mixing business and politics.

NOBLE: You get the sense that they're seeing the presidency and being an adviser to the president as a marketing opportunity.

NORTHAM: Ivanka Trump has taken steps to separate herself from her business by stepping back from the day-to-day operations and naming family members as trustees. Noble says that's not good enough.

NOBLE: It's not a true blind trust. She's still aware of what's going on there, and I think she does actually have the ability to make certain decisions. And also, at the end of the day, it's all going to come back to her.

NORTHAM: Noble says Ivanka Trump should fully divest from her business to avoid even the perception of a conflict of interest. In the meantime, she's traveling the world as a representative of her father. On Tuesday, she heads to Germany. Wherever Ivanka Trump goes, her name, her brand goes with her. She also got a little help here in the U.S. when on February 9, presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway promoted her brand on the Fox News Channel.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KELLYANNE CONWAY: It's a wonderful line. I own some of it. I fully - I'm going to just give a - I'm going to give a...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: OK.

CONWAY: ...Free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.

NORTHAM: The White House counseled Conway for what they called her inadvertent remarks. The fashion website Lyst says sales of Ivanka Trump items jumped more than 10,000 percent that same day. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, we say that Ivanka Trump is a paid adviser to the president. That is wrong. She is not taking a salary for that work.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.