Former NBA superstar Michael Jordan has won a partial victory in his long running battle for the rights to his Chinese name. The Supreme People's Court of China (the nation's highest court) has ruled that Qiaodan Sports Co must cease using the mark “乔丹”, the Mandarin characters for "Jordan", on its products but may continue to use the pinyin (phonetic) spelling of Jordan's Mandarin name, "Qiaodan".
Jordan has been fighting for years to revoke the trade marks of Qiaodan Sports Co, which uses a similar name and "Jumpman" logo to his well-known Nike brand, Air Jordan. He has argued that when Qiaodan Sports registered their trade marks, “乔丹” and "Qiaodan" were already widely known and associated with himself personally. He has also alleged the use of his name and logo is misleading to customers and implying he has a connection to the products.
The Supreme Court agreed with the six-time NBA champion's arguments in relation to the “乔丹” mark but ruled that the pinyin "Qiaodan" mark did not infringe on his right to use his name in China. The Court found that there was insufficient evidence to establish that Chinese consumers would associate the mark with Jordan's name.
The ruling is an important one for intellectual property rights in China. China has been seen by many to award too much protection to the rights of trade mark "squatters" over foreign companies and individuals, by allowing counterfeiters to register the names of well-known overseas brands. The Supreme Court's decision will set a precedent for foreign celebrities and businesses seeking to protect the rights to their brands in China. Lower courts and governmental bodies have previously given inconsistent decisions in similar cases so the decision of the country's top court will provide some much needed clarity. It should also bring some certainty to foreign companies and individuals trading, or seeking to trade, in China and is likely to boost investment and business confidence in the People's Republic.
Lawyers say the verdict is important because it establishes the scope of protection for personal names in trademark cases, indicating that foreign celebrities can successfully challenge third parties that use the Chinese characters of their names in China.