Business, Man

Trump Fights to Protect, and Expand, His Brand's Name

The billionaire's long history of brand defense has ensnared everyone from marketers to his ex-wife.

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Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

The Trump brand, like the man, is a hotly debated subject. It's the source of currency, both political and commercial—but exactly how much? A few billion dollars, more or less, depending on who you ask.

Starting long before he decided to run for president, Donald Trump has vigorously defended his name before the government and in court. Even now, he is caught up in a fight with an Internet marketing firm seeking to use the phrase Trump Your Competition.

The dispute dates back to 2014, when Trump sought to block the Lake Tahoe, Nevada-based firm from registering its mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. That dispute came to a head last month when Trump Your Competition asked a Manhattan federal judge to order the Republican front-runner to appear for a deposition.

Trump’s lawyers this week sought to deflect the request onto Trump's general counsel, Alan Garten. Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for Trump, didn’t respond to request for comment. Last month, Garten told the Wall Street Journal that Trump Your Competition’s case was “beyond meaningless.”

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein rejected Trump Your Competition's bid to force the real estate mogul to testify.

This sort of thing has been par for the course for Trump, who has extended his brand from New York City real estate to vodka, golf courses, and beauty pageants. Since 1985, he's been either a plaintiff or defendant in dozens of trademark proceedings, pitting him against large corporations, mom-and-pop businesses, and even his own family. 

In some of these cases, he’s merely sought delays, as with a 2003 filing involving a trademark application by toymaker Mattel. The next year, Marriott International grappled with Trump over the name of a Miami-area beach resort.

Mattel had sought to trademark something called the Trump Car Series in the category of “toys, games and playthings.” Mattel abandoned the application, though Trump never filed a formal appeal.

In the years since, Trump successfully blocked trademark registrations by a New York City-based seller of footwear for infants and toddlers; a San Antonio-based maker of mobile barbecue pits; and his ex-wife, Ivana Trump, who withdrew an application to register her own name for use in “real estate services,” after he appealed.

In 2006, Trump filed an opposition to a mark registered almost 30 years earlier by United States Playing Card, which registered the mark “Trump” for cards in 1978. He argued in filings that the trademark for playing cards had fallen out of use, and was holding up his “application to register the mark TRUMP in connection with 'board games.'” He later abandoned his opposition effort.

In 2007, he asked the USPTO for an extension on his right to block a registration by his daughter, Ivanka, though he never filed an appeal. He asked the agency to maintain his right to block her from using the Trump name for “hotel services, restaurant services, and health spa services.” Ivanka abandoned her application in 2008.

The current case against Trump Your Competition appears to be unique in at least one respect: In the past, Trump has taken aim at companies including clothing brands (Trumpit) and software (iTrump) that sought to register trademarks that vary slightly from his name. The ongoing case appears to be his first attempt to protect his ownership in the verb form.

—Erik Larson contributed to this article. 

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