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2017-04-18 15:07:02
Ivanka Trump’s Global Reach, Undeterred by a White House Job

LONDON — Ivanka Trump calls her father a homebody. “If it were up to him, he’d seldom leave New York,” she once wrote.

By contrast, she has been her family’s leading globalist — doing deals around the world in her father’s name and her own. Even since her father took office, her own fashion brand has continued to look abroad, filing four new trademarks in Canada and the Philippines, according to a New York Times analysis of trademark records.

The continued activity is tricky territory for Ms. Trump’s new job as White House adviser. While she has stepped down from both her own fashion company and from the Trump Organization and put her brand in a trust, she has not given up her financial control, an unusual situation to navigate now that she is subject to federal ethics rules on conflicts of interest.

Even though many of her trademark applications were filed long before she took her government job, they could be decided on by foreign governments while she works in the White House, creating ethical issues with little precedent.

Earlier this month, China approved three new trademarks for Ms. Trump’s brand on the same day she met China’s president, Xi Jinping, according to an Associated Press report. Japan also approved trademarks in Ms. Trump’s name in February that included footwear, handbags and other apparel, records show. And trademark applications in Ms. Trump’s name are awaiting decisions in 10 countries, the Times analysis showed, including Kuwait, Qatar, Panama and Brazil.

Ms. Trump has long been conducting a corporate two-step, trying to build her own global brand as she has helped push her father’s name into new parts of the world. Over all, Ivanka Trump Marks L.L.C., her trademarking business, has filed 173 foreign trademarks in 21 countries, as well as in Hong Kong and the European Union, in little more than a decade, according to the Times analysis. There are probably more, since there is no single repository of all global trademarks. All of the applications on record took place before she was a White House adviser.

Ms. Trump’s previous role as an informal adviser to President Trump had already raised questions. She is a woman with a multitude of overseas business ventures who since the election has been afforded prime seating at meetings with a who’s who of foreign leaders — from Justin Trudeau to Shinzo Abe to Angela Merkel.

Now such issues become more complex. While presidents are exempt from federal conflict of interests law, Ms. Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, another senior White House aide, are not. As such, they are barred from making decisions in government that could benefit their financial holdings, which are worth as much as $740 million, according to recent filings. They are also covered by the Constitution’s emoluments clause barring federal officials from accepting “any present, emolument, office or title of any kind whatever from any king, prince or foreign state.”

Whether trademarks run afoul of such rules is a matter of debate between the Trump administration and its critics. Trademarks are certainly valuable assets as companies seek exclusive control over their global brands, and Ms. Trump herself has said that the first step in building a brand is to “do a comprehensive trademark search.”

Ms. Trump has taken steps to separate herself from her company. Her brother-in-law and sister-in-law serve as trustees, while Abigail Klem, her brand’s president, runs the company’s day-to-day operations.

But she has kept her financial interest in the company, and retains the ability to approve or veto certain deals through her trust arrangement. Ms. Trump also maintains a stake in the Trump International Hotel in Washington, just down the street from the White House.

“When they weren’t going into the White House, I thought there was a lot of leeway there,” said John Pudner, the executive director of the conservative nonprofit Take Back Our Republic.

Now, he said, “anything can be viewed as influence.”

“I think it’s bad for the administration,” added Mr. Pudner, who voted for Mr. Trump. “It could call into question any decision made, people wondering if there’s a business angle to it.”

The White House referred comments to the Trump Organization, which did not comment.

Ms. Klem, president of Ms. Trump’s brand, said in a statement, “The brand has filed, updated and rigorously protected its international trademarks over the past several years in the normal course of business, especially in regions where trademark infringement is rampant.

“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.”

Ms. Trump has long had an international outlook. In her 2009 book, “The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life,” she credited the influence of her mother, Ivana, for her own love of travel. And not long after she joined the Trump Organization in 2005, she helped lead her father’s business abroad.

“Before my brothers and I joined the company, our business was primarily a New York-based operation,” she wrote in her book, adding that her father would say, “There are plenty of great deals right here in New York.”

It was not long before she began to concurrently push her own brand in many of the same markets as her father’s.

While she was overseeing the development of a controversial Trump Tower in Azerbaijan, which has since been abandoned, she was also filing trademarks for her own brand, for clothes and cosmetics.

In China, while she was helping her father’s company make inroads, she developed her own following, taking out at least 23 trademarks for everything from swimwear to wedding dresses, both to battle locals trying to infringe on her name and to support her own interests.

Ms. Trump has a following in China, where young professionals often equate material wealth with success. A video of her daughter singing in Chinese even went viral. But for many Chinese, Ms. Trump is the epitome of the fuerdai, a Mandarin expression that means “rich second generation,” a term provoking a mix of respect and resentment.

A spokesman for the brand said several of its licensees wholesale products in China. More than a dozen of Ms. Trump’s own Chinese trademarks were filed during the election campaign.

In Manila, Ms. Trump was the linchpin for a new Trump Tower rising in Makati City, a project that “came about from a meeting that took place between Ivanka and I,” Robbie Antonio, the son of a prominent Filipino developer, once said in a promotional video.

Ms. Trump’s friendship with Mr. Antonio is not hard to understand. He has a bit of Trumpian flair himself — an art collector who once commissioned a Rem Koolhaas-designed home filled with portraits of himself.

Ms. Trump and Mr. Antonio have also been involved in a plan to sell her jewelry in the Philippines, but a spokesman for the brand said it did not have any current plans to open a store there. And records show her business has applied for three new trademarks in the country this year.

It is not clear how Ms. Trump, now a federal employee, will navigate continuing ties to far-flung foreign business interests. Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, a left-leaning watchdog group, said that if Ms. Trump’s brand was trying to expand operations or import from other countries, there could be “meaningful interaction” with foreign governments. Foreign companies, too, might also try to cut special deals with the brand to curry favor with the Trump administration, Mr. Weissman added.

“Then you get into the issue about improper influence,” he said.

Jamie Gorelick, a Washington ethics lawyer who is acting as an independent adviser to Ms. Trump’s trust, has said that the trust prohibits Ms. Trump’s brand from reaching deals with foreign governments or state-owned enterprises.

For Ms. Trump, the risks may be necessary. Helping steady her father’s presidency could be critical to preserving the appeal of both her brand and her father’s. Certainly, his scorching rhetoric has led to a complicated period for Ms. Trump’s brand, both at home and abroad.

Her business interests have faced boycotts, and Nordstrom, citing poor sales, said in February that it would no longer sell Ms. Trump’s shoes and clothes. There was also a backlash to the backlash, as online sales of Ivanka Trump-branded products skyrocketed right after Nordstrom’s decision, according to Lyst, a fashion e-commerce site.

Ms. Trump also made waves in China in February by posting a video of her 5-year-old daughter, Arabella, singing in Chinese on Instagram, a move some saw as aimed at soothing raw feelings between China and the Trump administration.

And in March, “Saturday Night Live” featured a sketch, starring Scarlett Johansson, that had Ivanka selling a perfume called “Complicit.” (She recently told CBS, “If being complicit is wanting to, is wanting to be a force for good and to make a positive impact, then I’m complicit.”)

“Everything she does,” said Mr. Weissman of Public Citizen, “is effectively an advertisement for the Ivanka Trump brand.”