Nike warned on China copyright
A mainland designer says the US giant used an image protected by a trademark
A mainland designer of flash animations for use in internet advertising campaigns is threatening to sue Nike for intellectual property right infringement after the shoemaker used a stick-man figure in a recent marketing campaign.
The United States sports equipment giant has dismissed the allegation.
The case has been closely watched in China as mainland companies yearn for equal treatment from multinationals which have been calling for greater copyright protection on the mainland.
Artist Zhu Zhiqiang said Nike had used his copyrighted stick figure without his consent in a recent advertising campaign.
Mr Zhu created the black stick figure - which has a match-like body, big head and no face - in 1989. He claimed to own the trademark for the design, which has been frequently published in the mainland press.
'As both my work and Nike's ads are viewed by the public, I hope to get some reaction and judgment on the case,' mainland media quoted Mr Zhu as saying.
Nike has used a similar stick figure for advertisements which have appeared in Beijing's metro system and television channels in addition to the Sina.com website.
On November 27, Mr Zhu asked his lawyer to issue a warning to Nike, demanding the sportswear maker stop using the stick figure and pay compensation. He said he would bring the case to court if there was no reply.
But Nike has denied infringement in the case.
'We were fully aware of the matter,' a spokeswoman at the company's Shanghai office said.
'We treat the case seriously and have handed it to our legal department.'
A source close to Nike said the American company believed its design was different from Mr Zhu's.
'Also, Mr Zhu is not the inventor of the stick figure. The image has existed for decades, long before Mr Zhu's works were published,' the source said.
The source said Nike had faxed two replies to Mr Zhu's lawyer but had received no response.
Nike would not say whether the threat of a lawsuit would lead it to drop the marketing campaign.
'Nothing has been decided. But the stick figure won't be used anymore when the marketing campaign ends,' the Nike spokeswoman said.
The case comes amid growing concerns about copyright protection on the mainland.
Last month, a Beijing court dismissed a Toyota Motor lawsuit brought against mainland car manufacturer Geely Group, which it had accused of copying its 'T' trademark.
Legal experts said it was possible to register trademarks for simple designs such as stick figures.
'Many things - though they are not new - can be trademarked,' said Anne Choi, a senior partner at Wilkinson & Grist.
'However, if Nike can show evidence the design of [Mr Zhu] was copied from someone else, or Nike had used the design a long time ago, it can void the previous registration.'