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13 January 2021Trademarks

Michael Jordan wins longstanding Chinese trademark dispute

Basketball star Michael Jordan has prevailed in a longstanding trademark dispute with Chinese sportswear manufacturer Qiaodan Sports.

A transcript of the Shanghai Second Intermediate People’s Court’s decision, dated December 30, 2020, can be viewed on Chinese media app WeChat.

Qiaodan Sports is the pinyin translation of ‘Jordan’ in Chinese. Pinyin is the system for transcribing Mandarin Chinese characters into the Latin script.

The trademark dispute between Qiaodan and Jordan, which started in 2012, centres on Qiaodan’s use of ‘Jordan’. The basketball star owns a trademark for ‘Jordan’ in China, which he registered in 1993.

However, Qiaodan registered the name ‘Qiaodan’ and the Chinese character translation of ‘Jordan’ in 1998. Qiaodan also registered the number ‘23’, which is Jordan’s former playing number, as a trademark in the same year.

Jordan accused Qiaodan of trademark infringement and sought an order stopping it from using the ‘Qiaodan’ marks. The basketball star claimed the sportswear manufacturer was deliberately using his name to mislead consumers.

Jordan asked the court to award emotional damages and reasonable legal costs, but he did not make a claim for economic loss.

In response, Qiaodan noted that Jordan is an ordinary surname in the UK and the US. It added that it has used its ‘Qiaodan’ trademarks for decades, in accordance with its legal rights, and that the statute of limitations under which Jordan could have challenged these marks has now passed.

Under Chinese trademark law, trademark registrations become irrevocable after a five-year dispute period which starts when a trademark is registered.

Last month, the Shanghai Second Intermediate People’s Court sided with Jordan and ordered the sportswear manufacturer to stop using ‘Qiaodan’ in its corporate name.

“This court believes that the right of name is an important personality right,” the People’s Court said. It found that Qiaodan’s use of the trademarks has been intended to refer to the basketball star.

Qiaodan had also registered the Chinese translations of the names of Jordan’s two sons as trademarks, and the People’s Court found this to be evidence of the sportswear manufacturer’s intention to cause or allow consumer confusion.

That Qiaodan has used the ‘Qiaodan’ trademarks in combination with the number ‘23’ mark was a further persuasive factor for the People’s Court, as it showed commercial behaviour which is “sufficient to mislead the public”.

Qiaodan has “infringed on the plaintiff’s name rights, and should stop the infringement, apologise, and eliminate the impact”, the People’s Court concluded.

It directed Qiaodan to stop using the ‘Qiaodan’ trademarks, except for those which exceed the five-year statute of limitations. When using marks which exceed the statute of limitations, Qiaodan must indicate “in a reasonable way” that there is no link between itself and the basketball star.

In addition, Qiaodan is required to publish a statement clarifying its relationship with the basketball star and publicly apologise to him on various outlets, including on Chinese microblogging website Weibo.

Finally, the court ordered the sportswear manufacturer to pay RMB300,000 ($46,410) to Jordan for emotional damages, and an additional RMB50,000 ($7,735) for legal expenses.

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