Basketball star Jordan wins China court ruling after four-year case

China’s highest court rules in star’s favour in long-running trademark case relating to Chinese sportswear firm, Qiaodan Sports

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 December, 2016, 3:49pm
UPDATED : Friday, 09 December, 2016, 9:54am

Legendary US basketball star Michael Jordan won the rights to the Chinese version of his last name from a domestic sportswear maker in the country’s top court on Thursday, in a dramatic final twist in one of China’s most contentious legal battles yet, over intellectual property.

The ruling, issued by the Supreme People’s Court in Beijing, is poised to revoke the registered trademark rights of Qiaodan Sports Co, a major athletic goods firm in southern China, to use Jordan’s Chinese moniker, while allowed it to use his Romanised name “Qiaodan,” according to a filing.

Watch: Michael Jordan wins rights to his name in China

The final court action came after the Hall of Fame player cried foul and filed a lawsuit against the Chinese sportswear chain over alleged improper use of his Chinese transliterated name as early as 2012, only to have the claims rejected repeatedly by the districts courts.

Jordan, who has been a household name since his introduction to the Chinese market in the 1980s, subsequently appealed against the decisions, eventually bringing the case to the country's top court, where its vice president Tao Kaiyuan led a panel of five judges hearing the case earlier this year.

“The registration of trademarks in question have infringed the naming rights held by Michael Jordan and have also violated trademark laws, therefore we rejected the previous two verdicts,”said a statement issued by the court this morning.

The registration of trademarks in question have infringed the naming rights held by Michael Jordan and have also violated trademark laws, therefore we rejected the previous two rulings
Statement issued by Supreme People’s Court in Beijing

But it dismissed Jordon’s four other claims over the naming rights and trademarks of “Qiaodan”, which is the English name of the company and Romanised name of the retired basketball star, pronouncing approximately as “Cheow-dan” in Mandarin.

“I am happy that the Supreme People’s Court has recognised the right to protect my name through its ruling in the trademark cases,” Jordan, who is also the chief executive of Nike Inc’s Brand Jordan Division, said in an e-mailed statement after the ruling.

“Chinese consumers deserve to know that Qiaodan Sports and its products have no connection to me.”

Fujian-based Qiaodan Sports, which operates hundreds of stores across China and became a partner of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) in 2010, first registered for the rights to use Jordan’s Chinese transliterated name in 1997.

It has been granted, meanwhile, the permission to use the logo of a basketball player’s image with a ball, according to the trademark office of China’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce.

While Jordan fired the first salvo against Qiaodan Sports in 2012, the retailer also fought back with a countersuit against the superstar asking for US$8 million in damages caused by Jordan’s claim for its unauthorised use of his name in 2013.

The company, which was planning to list in Shanghai then said the legal action taken by Jordan had damaged its image, and hampered its initial public offering plan.

The Chinese firm said in a statement on its official Sina microblog that it respected the court’s judgement and would, in compliance with the law, safeguard its products’ intellectual property rights appropriately.

Trademark disputes in China have become something of a bone of contention for other high-flying Western companies and celebrities.

In May, for instance, Chinese firm Tingfei Long Sporting Goods Co launched a premium clothing brand called Uncle Martian, sparking a public outcry with its logo’s blatant similarities to Under Armour, an American athletic goods giant.

The Baltimore-based company in June raised a US$15 million trademark suit against Uncle Martian, accusing the Chinese apparel name of infringements.