Just Ivanka: As her fame skyrockets, Trump daughter launches legal battle to protect her first name
|National Post 21 Apr 2017 at 00:12|
Ivanka Trump is one of the most famous women on the planet. Shes certainly the most famous Ivanka. Standing by her fathers side as he ascended to the White House, her prominence even sparked a swell in the number of babies named Ivanka.
As the presidents eldest daughter, she has carefully sculpted her image since first entering public view as a judge on his reality television show. Now with a position in his administration, the 35-year-olds skyrocketing fame has quickly made her first name a mononymlike Oprah or Cher.
But in this case, all publicity isnt necessarily good. Ivanka, who like her father is a brand as much as a person, has launched an international legal effort to protect her name. Even her first name. In China, where shes held up as a model of success in some quarters, local entrepreneurs are rushing to grab trademarks for Ivanka Trump. They hope to make a killing on everything from sanitary napkins to chewing gum bearing the Ivanka label.
In the U.S., Ivanka Trump is also moving to block anyone who would seek to profit from her name. In December, her intellectual property holding company, Ivanka Trump Marks LLC, moved to register a trademark for Ivanka in the U.S. on fashion items ranging from dresses and skirts to scarves and ponchos. Over the past five years, the company has sought similar first-name trademarks in categories such as jackets, handbags, eyewear, and a variety of home goods from pillow shams to cookie jars.
For now, a spokesperson said the brand has no immediate plans to drop the Trump surname from her existing products in favor of only Ivanka. But obtaining the trademark on just her first name will give her that option.
The Ivanka trademark was filed as an intent to use, which places it off-limits to others. After its approved, the holder must eventually submit proof that its being used within a certain time-frame.
As her fame increases, Ivankas ability to defend her trademarks will strengthen. Even if her brand doesnt drop the Trump name, it will become increasingly difficult for, say, a budding fashion designer also named Ivanka to sell under her that moniker.
We really have never had a first family so interested in exploiting their names as a consequence of the inherent exposure that they get from the presidency, said Michelle Mancino Marsh, an intellectual property lawyer who specializes in fashion law at Arent Fox. Ivanka is now probably considered a famous brand.
Looking back, I think my first name would have worked quite nicely, being that it is very distinctive.
When Ivanka Trump started her fine jewelry line in 2007, she and her partners debated whether to use her first or her full name, she recalled in her 2009 book. Looking back, I think my first name would have worked quite nicely, being that it is very distinctive, she wrote. But we all realized that if we were looking to expand into an international market, it would be a huge missed opportunity to leave the Trump name on the cutting room floor.
Soon, her brand began licensing the full Ivanka Trump name to make a line of work-appropriate apparel, shoes, and affordable leather handbags. By using her last name, Ivanka Trump was capitalizing on the decades of brand-building her father had already done. As she saw it, Donald Trump was a name that already represented luxury, glamour, wealth, and aspiration. She wanted to capture that for her fledgling brand, too.
There was built-in name recognition, so itd be foolish to set my birthright aside in favor of something generic, she wrote. The branding worked, and the Ivanka Trump label grew to include a $100 million clothing line manufactured by G-III Apparel Group, as well as shoes and jewelry.
But the brassy, big money New York evoked by her fathers name ceased being a regular brand asset as the 2016 presidential campaign intensified. As president, Donald Trump further polarized opinions about his own brand, affecting his family, and by extension their business endeavors. Since the election, Ivankas brand has suffered, with organized boycotts and a steady drumbeat of retailers dropping her lines.
Then there was the question of conflicts of interest. Ivanka Trump is now an official, unpaid federal employee with a West Wing office. In January, she announced she was giving day-to-day management of her brand to Klem, the companys president, though she doesnt plan to divest from her brand, says Jamie Gorelick, Trumps attorney (and a former top Justice Department official under President Bill Clinton). Instead, Trump transferred the brands assets to a new trust overseen by relatives of her husband, Jared Kushner. She retains ownership and receives payouts, however.
I have heard the concerns some have with my advising the president in my personal capacity while voluntarily complying with all ethics rules, Ivanka Trump said in a statement March 29. Throughout this process I have been working closely and in good faith with the White House Counsel and my personal counsel to address the unprecedented nature of my role.
But those arent the only concerns about how her official role may influence her business ventures. Ivanka Trump Marks LLC has filed 173 trademarks in foreign countries over the past decade or so, according to the New York Times. Some were filed after her father took office. Since then, Ivanka Trump has met with such world leaders as Japans Shinzo Abe, Chinas Xi Jinping, and Canadas Justin Trudeauall nations in which her company has filed trademarks.
Like Beyonce or Madonna
While there are unprecedented conflict of interest issues surrounding the Trump family, the situation that gives rise to them is, ironically, a benefit to Ivankas brand: Her role inside the White House gives her even more ammunition with which to claim exclusive intellectual property rights to her name.
If a name has become ingrained in the consumer mind, its more easily protected. If Ivanka Trump wasnt considered famous in 2015, everyone surely knows who she is now. Having the occasional magazine ad and bus shelter plastered with your face is one thing. Being on network news shows every night is quite another. It would be difficult to argue shes not the best-known Ivanka out thereand thats bad news for less-famous Ivankas.
There are some registrations owned by people named Ivanka, said Donna Tobin, a trademark lawyer at Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz. If they filed new trademarks, they would likely get rejected initially and be forced to argue theyre not trying to mislead shoppers, she said.
Arguably, Ivankas name is on its way to being as distinctive as Beyonce and Madonna. Someone such as Ivanka Trumps little sister, Tiffany, would have a harder time, since her name is so common, used in everything from Tiffany & Co. jewelry to a brand of artificial Christmas tree.
But even uncommon names can run into trouble if the space is already occupied. Kylie Jenner, the youngest Kardashian sister, recently lost a battle to trademark her first name as it relates to advertising services. A representative of Australian singer Kylie Minogue contested the application, arguing it would confuse consumers and dilute her brand. Minogue has operated Kylie.com since 1998 and owns numerous trademarks involving the name, including Kylie for entertainment and music.
But unlike the two Kylies, its safe to say that, for now, theres just one Ivanka. And she isnt just looking to protect her name. Shes also taken steps to trademark #WomenWhoWork, her personal lifestyle initiative and the title of her next book. And even further afield, her licensing company has trademarked two versions of her oldest sons name, Joseph Frederick Kushner, to use on clothes and accessories.
Indeed, in a weird twist of Trump family dynamics, the person who could pose the biggest obstacle to Ivankas trademark registrations is her own mother. Ivana Trump, Donald Trumps first wife, was one of the first in the family to brand herself. She owns trademarks for Ivana in connection with wine, eyeglasses, and jewelry, along with IvanaTrump.com. And the name Ivana looks and sounds a lot like Ivanka, which is an important point when it comes to blocking a trademark application.
But its not her mother she has to worry about. China has emerged as Ivanka Trumps biggest intellectual property nemesis. Ivanka Trump, the person, is adored in China. Many see her as smart, beautiful, and hardworkingand without the political overtones that make her so controversial in America. Businesses have filed at least 250 trademark applications to use the local language version of Ivanka on everything from diapers to bottled water.
Historically, China provided little protection for intellectual property. But Trumps company may soon be the beneficiary of nascent efforts to crack down on profiteers. Starting in March, provisions approved by Chinas Supreme Peoples Court took effect, aiming to protect the names of famous people. So far, Ivanka Trump Marks LLC has filed more than 50 applications for trademarks on variations of her name in both English and Chinese. And earlier this month, on the same day Ivanka Trump and Kushner sat down to dine with the president of China at Mar-a-Lago, the Chinese government granted her company three new trademarks for jewelry, bags, and spa services.
Shes got a very large opportunity with the Chinese consumer, said Brian Buchwald, chief executive of Bomoda, a consumer intelligence company with a focus on China. But he doubts that Ivanka can rely solely on her first name to win over that market. For that, she may still need the brand her father built.