On Thursday, the court ruled in favour of Mr Jordan in the basketball star’s ongoing intellectual property showdown with local sportswear manufacturer Qiaodan Sports. Pronounced ‘chee-ow-dhan’, Qiaodan is the transliteration of Mr Jordan’s surname when translated into Mandarin characters. For four years, Mr Jordan has struggled to regain control over the use of his name in China, which is currently employed by Qiaodan Sports to brand its range of clothing and equipment. Many Qiaodan products also feature a silhouette of a leaping basketball player, not unlike the ‘Jumpman’ logo used by sneaker manufacturer Nike to brand its own Air Jordan line of footwear and apparel.
Mandarin characters vs English alphabet
‘Today’s decision ensures that my Chinese fans and all Chinese consumers know that Qiaodan Sports and its products have no connection to me,’ Mr Jordan said of the verdict. The Supreme People’s Court ordered Qiaodan Sports to cease using the Mandarin characters for Qiaodan on its merchandise, acknowledging that the rendering is widely known in China as Mr Jordan’s name. However, the court did not bar Qiaodan from using the using the phonetic spelling of Mr Jordan’s Chinese name using the English alphabet – ‘Qiaodan’ – saying that the English alphabet rendering did not infringe upon Mr Jordan’s right to control the use of his name in China.
The high-profile ruling offers a glimmer of hope for the many international brands currently battling against China’s notorious trademark laws, which generally protect the rights of whoever registers a trademark first and thus almost always favour local operators over foreign companies. Many foreign companies entering the Chinese market arrive to find that a local counterfeiter or copycat has already secured trademark rights over their name and branding. ‘The vast majority of decisions are still in favour of the trademark squatters, because the way you get trademark rights in China is by filing a trademark application, not by being famous,’ explained Harris Moure lawyer Matthew Dresden to Bloomberg. ‘Perhaps if we see a few more decisions like [Mr Jordan’s] then it might seem like the tide is turning, but for now this seems like an anomaly.’