Former NBA superstar Michael Jordan still doesn’t own the rights to his own name in China, but at least he’s just won a bit of pocket money heading into 2021.
In the latest installment of Jordan’s years-long saga of trademark suits, a Shanghai court ruled Wednesday that a Chinese sportswear and shoe manufacturer that has used his name as its brand for decades did so without authorization and with the intention to “mislead” consumers. It did not, however, appear to revoke the company’s right to use the phoentic English spelling of Jordan’s name in Chinese translation.
The Qiaodan Sports Company, whose name is the Chinese translation of “Jordan,” must compensate the five-time MVP $46,000 (RMB300,000) for “emotional damages” and $7,600 (RMB50,000) for legal expenses incurred — chump change for the legendary player estimated by Forbes to have a net worth of $1.6 billion.
The company must stop using the Chinese characters of “Qiaodan” in its corporate name and product trademarks, and issue a public apology in print and online clarifying that it has no connection to the basketballer himself, the court ruled. It must also take “reasonable measures” to indicate and clarify that its older trademarks have no actual ties to the NBA star.
The latter is a concession to the fact that China can’t order to order the company to stop using Jordan’s name entirely. The country’s trademark law stipulates that there is a five-year window in which registered trademarks may be disputed. Many of Qiaodan’s Jordan-related trademarks are more than five years old, meaning that they are technically now irrevocable.
The ruling is consistent with a previous verdict from China’s supreme court. In April, it issued a landmark ruling in Jordan’s favor to declare that the firm had used his name illegally, overturning two prior lower court verdicts. Qiaodan’s logo, the silhouette of a jumping basketball player, is very similar to Jordan’s well-known Nike Jumpman logo, a silhouette of him jumping to dunk. The supreme court did not rule that the logo violated Jordan’s rights, referring the issue out for retrial.
Just months before in January, Beijing had signed a phase one deal declaring it would improve protections for intellectual property rights, a key point of contention in the ongoing US-China trade war.
Qiaodan Sports was founded in 2000 and operates nearly 6,000 stores across the country. It has registered around 200 trademarks related to Jordan, including 12 it applied for just last year. Jordan has filed 80 lawsuits against the firm since 2012.
He didn’t win any of them until 2016, when China’s supreme court awarded him the right to his name in Chinese characters, but not the phoentic spelling of “Qiaodan” in English.
In the recently concluded Shanghai suit, the defendants — Qiaodan Sports Company and the Bairen Trading Company, which sells its products — once again argued that “Jordan” is merely a common Western surname, not solely a reference to the NBA star.
The court found that Bairen Trading, which purchased the products through legal channels, was not at fault, but ruled that it should not sell products with such copyright infringements in the future.
In a statement, it condemned Qiaodan Sports for “registering the company name ‘Qiaodan’ and still choosing the word ‘Qiaodan’ for trademark registration without Jordan’s authorization, despite knowing that he has a huge reputation.”
The court noted that by previously trademarking Jordan’s former jersey number “23” and even the Chinese translations of the names of his two sons, the company had made a “very obvious attempt to mislead” consumers, one sufficient to determine that it “had the intention of causing or allowing for public confusion” through its actions.