BEIJING — China’s Supreme People’s Court today ruled in favor of former basketball superstar Michael Jordan in a trademark case against Qiaodan Sports, a popular Chinese sportswear company.
The court overturned a previous ruling, meaning that the Chinese brand will be forced to give up its trademark registration on the Mandarin character version of Jordan’s name, Qiaodan. But the court upheld a ruling allowing the firm to use the Romanized version of Qiaodan.
Jordan took his case to China’s highest court last April after unsuccessfully pursuing the case in China’s lower courts. In 2012, the athlete initially requested the State Administration for Industry and Commerce to suspend the sportswear company’s use of multiple trademarks, including Qiaodan, the Chinese transliteration of his surname, the number 23, and logo, which bears a resemblance to the silhouette of a basketball player.
Qiaodan Sports, which was founded in 1984, released a statement on its web site today acknowledging the ruling and declaring its intention to respect the court’s decision and fulfill the intellectual property protection of the brand.
“I am happy that the Supreme People’s Court has recognized the right to protect my name through its ruling in the trademark cases. Chinese consumers deserve to know that Qiaodan Sports and its products have no connection to me. Nothing is more important than protecting your own name, and today’s decision shows the importance of that principle,” Jordan said.
“Over the past three decades, I have built my reputation and name into a globally recognized brand. From my earliest playing days in the NBA, through my trip to China last fall, millions of Chinese fans and consumers have always known me by my Chinese name, ‘Qiaodan.’ Today’s decision ensures that my Chinese fans and all Chinese consumers know that Qiaodan Sports and its products have no connection to me,” he added.
“I respect the Chinese legal system and look forward to the Shanghai Court’s ruling on the separate naming rights case,” Jordan said.
The positive outcome for Jordan could herald a shift in judgments on intellectual property rights in China. International companies such as Under Armour and Apple have fallen foul of lax trademark laws in China this year alone.
“It’s an interesting case because China gives trademarks to whoever files for that trademark first, so on the face of things Jordan wouldn’t necessarily expect to have finally won this suit before China’s supreme court. But, I think this is also a case of the Chinese government becoming increasingly serious about protection of consumer rights,” said Benjamin Cavender, principal at China Market Research Group.
“This was a clear case of a company misleading consumers about the origins of the brand and I think allowing Jordan to take back the usage rights to the Chinese character version of his name supports the idea that they do not want to see consumers getting taken advantage of by companies that make false claims,” said Cavender.
Jordan, who is popular in China, had argued that the Chinese sportswear company had put his legal right to use his name in the country in jeopardy.
“In the end, I think companies need to be very aggressive about registering their trademarks in China or another firm may take advantage by getting there first,” said Cavender.