A recent ruling in a major trademark case decided by China's highest court promises to have significant ramifications for the intellectual property rights of sports persons and their brands in the Chinese market.
The legal saga started five years ago in 2011, when the famous basketball legend Michael Jordan took action against a Chinese company, Qiaodan Sports, which had been using his name, as it is spelt in Mandarin characters, for a number of years, along with a similar looking logo to the famous Air Jordan 'Jumpman' logo.
Jordan sued claiming Qiaodan Sports was using his name and image to promote their brand and creating an unauthorised association with him. Despite losing a number of initial cases, Jordan took the matter all the way to the Chinese Supreme People's Court.
The Supreme People's Court sided with Jordan, stating that Qiaodan Sports had created an association and breached Jordan's intellectual property rights. The decision was televised, in a sign that the Supreme People's Court expected to send a message with the ruling. In China, trade marks are awarded on a first registration basis, rather than a first use basis as is the case in Australia or the United States, so this decision promises to have significant impact on intellectual property protection in China.
The victory was only partial, as Qiaodan Sports was permitted to use the Latin translation of the Chinese name, with the Supreme People's Court saying consumers did not associate the Latin version of the brand with Jordan. Despite this though, it does set a precedent, and is clearly a sign that Chinese courts are now showing more willingness to protect the owners of intellectual property.
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New York Times