Chinese courts play ball with Jordan IP suit

He is “the greatest basketball player of all time”, according to the NBA. Forbes ranks “His Airness” as the 20th most powerful celebrity in the world. He earns around $55 million a year through endorsements and is worth $1 billion in sales to Nike. A basketball star and businessman, Michael Jordan has also dabbled in acting and professional baseball … and he has a shoe named after him.

Needless to say the “Jordan” brand is worth big bucks.

Jordan is suing leading Chinese sportswear company Qiaodan Sports Co Ltd for unauthorised use of his name and images associated with his brand. “Qiaodan” is the Chinese translation of Jordan.

On his website, Jordan states that he is bringing the lawsuit because “’No one should lose control of their own name … After all, what’s more personal than your name?”.

In his complaint, filed on February 21 in China, Jordan states that Qiaodan Sports Co Ltd has registered the “Qiaodan” name, the domain name <http://qiaodan.com.cn> and has filed for more than 100 associated trademarks, some of which contain the number 23 (his jersey number) and his sons’ names. He alleges that Qiaodan Sports Co Ltd’s marketing and uses of his name have misled consumers into believing that he is associated with the brand.

Chinese trademark law provides that “an application for registration of a trademark shall not create any prejudice to the prior right of another person nor unfair means be used to pre-emptively register the trademark of some reputation another person has used”. Favourable to Jordan, Chinese courts have recently found the names of two Chinese NBA stars to be a “prior right”.

However, even if Jordan’s name is found to be a “prior right”, he still faces the following obstacles in bringing his action before the Chinese courts:

  • Nike has been unsuccessful in its attempts to stop Qiaodan Sports Co Ltd from trading under that name (when Nike registered the trademark “Jordan” in 1993, it failed to register the Chinese version); and
  • Jordan’s action will be time-barred (trademark disputes must be brought within five years of registration), unless he can prove that the trademark “Qiaodan” was registered in bad faith.

The response from Qiaodan Sports Co Ltd to Jordan’s claim is that: “There is no connection, 23 is just a number like $23 or $230 … I don’t think there is a problem at all here … Not

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everyone will think this is misleading. There are so many Jordans besides the basketball player – there are many

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other celebrities both in the U.S. and worldwide called Jordan.”

A 2009 survey conducted by a Shanghai marketing company contradicts the Qiaodan Sports Co Ltd company line. Of the 400 young people living in China’s smaller cities surveyed, 90% believed that Qiaodan Sports Co Ltd was Michael Jordan’s own brand.

Jordan has set up a site dedicated to his legal battle. Click here for a play by play.

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