Michael Jordan regains the right to his name in China

January 16, 2017

The famous former basketball player, that sued the Chinese sports trademark Qiaodan Sports, due to the misuse of a trademark with Michael Jordan’s name, in Chinese, finally saw the Chinese justice system proving him right, already in the last appeal instance.

The case that has been dragging on for more than 4 years seems to have reached an end, indeed a happy end for the NBA legend, as you may verify by the previously published article (https://inventa.com/pt/noticias/artigo/23).

On 8th January 2016, the Supreme People's Court of China (highest judicial instance of the Country) commented on the invalidity of the registered trademark application, in China, by Qiaodan Sports, that used the Chinese characters “乔丹”, which mean “Jordan”, to identify its products.

This Court considered that the requirements of article 31 of the People's Republic of China Trademarks Law, which confer protection to prior rights, were fulfilled.

The referred article is to ensure a person’s name as a personality right, given that it owes a considerable popularity in China. Furthermore, the name in cause must be constantly used by the relevant public, while referring to determined person.

The admitted evidences in the case established that the Chinese media use “乔丹” to designate Michael Jordan, and the Chinese trademark applicant admitted that the Chinese relevant public use “乔丹”, while referring to the former player. In view of this, the Court ruled that the surname “Jordan”, although in Chinese, after several years of usage, became a common denomination to identify Michael Jordan, taking into consideration his prestige, and, as such, falls into the scope of article 31.

Curiously, the Supreme Court considered that the company Qiaodan Sports developed a remarkable reputation with its trademark “乔丹”, through several years of operation and promotion. Notwithstanding, it has also considered the possible existence of confusion on the behalf of the relevant public before the former basketball player Michael Jordan. Moreover, the Court ruled that Qiaodan Sports, willfully, registered a trademark application with the intention of free riding at the expense of Michael Jordan’s prestige, fact that infringes the principles of fair competition. To conclude, the Supreme Court sustained that the trademark’s success does not justify the violation of Michael Jordan’s personality rights.

Thereby, the Supreme Court annulled the courts’ prior decisions, and concluded that the local company of athletic wear had violated Jordan’s personality rights, forbidding the applicant to use the player’s name on its products.

“Air Jordan” has already reacted to the Court’s decision, expressing its satisfaction with the outcome of the process - “The decision ensures that my followers and consumers, in China, know that Qiaodan Sports and its products have nothing to do with me”.

This decision sends the clear message that the intellectual property rights in the People's Republic of China are to be respected, even to detriment of local interests.


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