MICHAEL JORDAN OUTPLAYED BY TRADEMARK RULES
As we have mentioned before, the Chinese trademark world is a complicated affair, and it requires great skills to navigate the sea of Chinese trademark copyists. Their elbows are sharp as knives and they are experts in registering other's trademarks and unrightfully securing their right to a certain name or logo on the Chinese market.
Once the trademark has been registered with the Chinese authorities, it is almost impossible to convince the authorities that the registration has been done illegally. It requires extensive evidence from the rightful owner, and even the biggest companies often find themselves beaten at the finish line.
It happened recently for Michael Jordan – the world famous basketball player known for his time with the Chicago Bulls in the 80’s. Through his career, Jordan has built a massive brand, using his name and logo (the so-called “Jumpman” logo) around the world, including on his Air Jordan sneakers.
In 2012, he took the Chinese sports brand Qiadan Sports to court in China, as he believed they were infringing several of his trademark rights, including “23” (the number he played with for the Bulls), and his “Jumpman” logo (derived from a photoshoot of Jordan himself). Furthermore, “Qiadan” is the Chinese transliteration of Jordan’s name – a transliteration that has been associated with Jordan in China since the 80’s.
At first instance, Jordan’s claim was denied, and Jordan had to appeal the decision to the High People’s court in Beijing. That did, however, not change the outcome, as the High court dismissed Jordan’s arguments as well.
The court stated that “Jordan” is a common surname in USA, indicating that the name is not distinctive enough to serve as a trademark – despite the world famous man behind it. The court further stated that the Chinese version of the “Jumpman” logo did not infringe Jordan’s trademark rights, as the Chinese logo had no discernible facial features, and would therefore not be perceived as Jordan by the Chinese consumers – despite the fact that Jordan’s own logo has no facial features either, but only consists of a silhouette.
Jordan then tried to argue that he, as a famous person, enjoys the rights to his personal name and reputation, as regulated in the Chinese General Principles of Civil Law, but this too was denied, as the court stated that Jordan, although very famous in the Western world, does not have a strong enough presence or uniqueness in China.
The High Court of Beijing therefore denied all claims by Jordan and upheld the Chinese trademark registrations. This could potentially mean that Jordan may no longer sell his products in China, as his use of his own trademark now poses as an infringement of the Chinese trademark registrations.
The case illustrates and underlines the absurdity of the Chinese trademark system, where it is possible to register someone else’s trademark and get the courts backing.
The case also shows why it is so important for trademark owners to secure their rights in China – before someone else does it. As we have seen from the Jordan case, it is almost impossible to win the fight against the Chinese courts, and it is therefore very important for trademark owners to consider a Chinese trademark registration – even if China is not part of the plan at the moment.
Contact us if you have questions regarding your trademark’s protection or wish to get more information about a Chinese trademark registration.
By Mia Storm