This Kat grew up playing and loving the sport of basketball, cultivating a deep admiration of the great Michael Jordan; a man nearly synonymous with basketball and the National Basketball Association (NBA). With his immense notoriety not even his Airness (as those of a basketball disposition would call him) is infallible, be it in sports or in trade marks. Recently this Kat became aware of an interesting dispute that has been played out in China regarding Mr Jordan and a variety of trade marks associated with him.
The dispute began in 2012 when Michael Jordan took the sports brand Qiaodan Sports to court, alleging the misuse of his name and several other marks, such as the number 23 (used by him during his tenure in the NBA) and the Jumpman logo (derived from a photoshoot with Nike, incorporating Mr Jordan's often unique and flamboyant dunk poses) that is associated with his own Air Jordan brand. At first instance his claim was denied, and Mr Jordan subsequently appealed that decision to the High People's Court.
|The iconic Jumpman dunk logo|
In the court action Jordan sought to revoke several of Qiaodan Sports' registered marks, specifically pertaining to his transliterated name, the Jumpman logo and the number 23 (and, surprisingly, his sons' names). A number of Qiaodan Sports' marks were, at least arguably, blatantly copied off Jordan's trade marks in the US, featuring near identical styles, compositions and the use of several of the above features.
The Beijing Municipal High People's Court upheld the earlier decision (the current decision is available in Chinese here) to reject Jordan's argument, and allowed Qiaodan Sports to retain their marks. In the court's judgment the name 'Jordan' "is not the only possible reference for 'Qiaodan' in the trade mark under dispute" and that it is "a common surname used by Americans", indicating that the name was not distinctive even through its association with a famous athlete. Further, in comparing the marks featuring the Jumpman logo, or a style similar to it, the court saw that as the character in the logos had no discernible facial features it would be hard for the Chinese people to recognize it as Mr Jordan.
|Merpel vowed to not be |
outdone by Michael Jordan
Nevertheless, this case only serves to highlight the importance of trade mark registration in China, and the possible effective provenance of any reputation therein. Western companies and famous individuals should be conscious of this fact, and ignorance is by no means a defence, irrespective of your fame and fortune elsewhere. Michael Jordan's lawyers have indicated that they will appeal the decision to the Supreme People Court, but this Kat is sceptical of his possible success even at the highest level.