President Trump, seen at a rally in June at Tulsa’s BOK Center, has traded in-person rallies for virtual events, such as “telerallies.” (Sue Ogrocki/AP)
President Trump’s private company filed a trademark application last week that suggested that it is starting a new line of business: organizing “telerallies” for political campaigns.
In an application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a subsidiary of the Trump Organization sought to trademark the word “telerally,” for use in “organizing events in the field of politics and political campaigning.”
That could mark a shift in the company’s business model. Since Trump took office, his business has been paid millions by political campaigns, including Trump’s reelection effort. But it always remained one step away from politics: The company rented out ballrooms and office space to campaigns but did not market itself as a political company or offer services related to rallies or reaching voters.
In early 2017, the president’s son Eric Trump — who now runs the business day-to-day — told ABC News that the company would stay out of politics, saying, “It’s important to keep separation of church and state.”
The trademark application suggests that has changed. By filing it, trademark experts said, the company is saying it intends to enter this business soon. But the application does not give much detail about the Trump Organization’s plans or which customers it wants to serve.
The Trump Organization did not respond to questions this week.
Only three days after Trump’s company filed the trademark application, Trump’s 2020 campaign held a new kind of event with a very similar name. The president called it “my first-ever TELE-rally.”
In it, Trump used Facebook’s video function to broadcast a 22-minute speech aimed at voters in Wisconsin. He said this was replacing his arena rallies, at least for now.
“Until [the coronavirus pandemic] gets solved, it’s going to be tough to have those big massive rallies,” Trump said at the outset. “But we’ll do it by telephone and we have a lot of people on the line.”
All have followed the same format: viewers hear audio of Trump giving an extended monologue, jumping from topic to topic. The video feed cycles between two still photos of Trump talking on the phone. The telerallies are not interactive, so attendees cannot chime in, cheer or ask questions.
“This is a very vital election. If we don’t win it, our country will never be able to recover. It will be a disaster. Thank you very much to the great people of Wisconsin. Thank you. Bye,” Trump said, signing off to end the Wisconsin event.
It was not clear whether Trump’s company was involved in the organization of these events, or if the Trump campaign paid Trump’s company for any services related to them. A spokeswoman for the Trump campaign declined to comment. Campaign spending records for this month will not be available until August.
Trump still owns his business, although he has given day-to-day control over to his adult sons.
One of its subsidiaries is called DTTM Operations, which files for trademarks and collects royalties for their use.
Since Trump took office, it had sought trademarks for Trump’s never-built Scion hotel chain andTrump-branded storage racks. Trump’s political slogans, such as “Keep America Great,” were trademarked by his campaign, a separate legal entity.
DTTM Operations applied for its first trademark in nearly two years when it did so for “telerally.”
“The applicant has a bona fide intention, and is entitled, to use the mark in commerce,” according to the application, prepared by a San Francisco lawyer who has done past copyright work for the Trump Organization.
Trademark-law experts said a trademark isn’t necessary for the Trump Organization to make money in politics. If the company wanted to start charging campaigns for organizing telerallies, it could do so immediately.
But a trademark would be helpful in the future, if the company does establish a business holding telerallies. It could stop others from using the name, or allow Trump’s company to license the name for a fee.
“The first reason you want a trademark is you want to keep other people from using the name,” said Josh Gerben, a D.C.-based trademark lawyer who spotted the trademark last week. “Does the company believe there’s an opportunity to license this mark to Republicans around the country to use?”
In the meantime, Trump’s campaign has continued to pay Trump’s company for other services, in transactions that turn political donations into private revenue for the president. In all, Trump’s campaign and the Republican Party have paid $8.3 million to Trump’s company since he took office, including $45,000 last month alone, campaign records show.