When a Chinese government body formalized a decision to accept his trademark this week, a few people were quick to suggest President Donald Trump had convinced the Chinese government to rule in his favor during a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Feb. 8.
On Friday, even Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California weighed in.
Posts alleging that Trump convinced the Chinese government to switch positions on his trademark case by agreeing to accept the "One China" policy — the principle that the US recognizes Beijing, and not Taipei, as the Chinese capital — were shared thousands of times on Twitter last week.
But there's only one problem — China had already decided to do this months ago.
Here's what happened.
Trump had tried vainly for years to obtain a 10-year trademark on his name for construction services, challenging a man named Dong Wei, who had snagged the trademark just two weeks before Trump applied for it in 2006. Several appeals by Trump's camp, both with China's business regulator and in court, failed.
But Trump persisted and filed a new application for the trademark nearly a decade later. China's Trademark Office voted last September to invalidate Dong's claim, essentially opening the door to a decision in favor of Trump.
The office said on Nov. 13 that Trump's registration of the trademark would be formally put in place in three months' time, a standard bureaucratic process that leaves time for objections.
Then, as expected, the Trademark Office announced on Feb. 14 that Trump had won the trademark. Some of the confusion may have stemmed from an early news story that called this week's award a "surprise win." It was not.
In other words, it's likely Trump would have gotten this trademark even if he had lost the election, as long as nothing else happened to derail the process.
The case also coincides with a recent statement by China's top court that people aren't allowed to register the names of public figures as trademarks — a move that seems to target the pervasive practice of trademark squatting in the country.
That's not to say that Trump's many other trademark applications aren't a conflict of interest. Chinese courts and regulatory bodies are not independent of the ruling Communist Party, and they are vulnerable to political pressure.
But in this case, the decision was made long before Trump's phone call with the Chinese president.
Megha Rajagopalan is the Asia correspondent at BuzzFeed News.
Contact Megha Rajagopalan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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