Michael Jordan’s Trademark Victory in China: A Lesson Learned for International Companies
On December 8, 2016, the China Supreme People’s Court rendered a partially favorable decision for basketball legend Michael Jordan in his four-year battle against China-based sportswear company Qiaodan Sports Company Limited (“Qiaodan Sports”) over the use of his name. Jordan’s victory signals China’s highest court recognizes non-Chinese citizens’ right to protect their names and to some extent implies the court’s determination to fight copycats. Yet, international companies should not celebrate too soon – the majority of trademark infringement cases in China still favor trademark squatters.
The Court found that “Jordan” in its Chinese characters enjoys wide popularity and has been used on various occasions to refer specifically to Michael Jordan. The claim raised was that Qiaodan Sports had “maliciously” registered trademarks for the use of Jordan’s name under different classes and built its entire business on that goodwill. Although Qiaodan Sports had significant investment in the brand and had occupied a certain market share for nearly a decade, Jordan’s right to his Chinese name prevailed. However, the Court declined the protection on Jordan’s family name in its phonetic spelling version, “Qiaodan” (pronounced as “Chee-ow-dahn”) because the Court believed that there was no established link between the phonetic spelling and Jordan as a person. Jordan, who is also the chief executive officer of The Jordan Brand, a division of Nike, said he was happy about the Court’s recognition of the right to protect his name.
Implications for International Companies