China’s Supreme Court has ruled in favour of basketball legend Michael Jordan in a long-running trademark dispute, ending an eight-year legal battle with a Chinese sportswear firm that illegally used his name.
Upholding intellectual property rights is one of the core disputes of the US-China trade war, and a phase one deal signed in January saw Beijing pledge to improve protections of intellectual property.
The landmark ruling, made late last month, prohibits the Fujian-based Qiaodan Sports from using the Chinese translation of Jordan’s name, Qiao Dan.
The retired Chicago Bulls player and six-time NBA championship winner has a huge following in China, a country that has legions of avid basketball fans.
The Supreme Court decision overturns two previous verdicts in favour of the Chinese firm.
However, it still allows the firm to continue using its logo of a silhouetted basketball player — which has similarities with the “Jumpman” logo used by Nike to promote its “Air Jordan” line of sports shoes.
However the Supreme Court referred the case over the use of the logo for retrial by the State Intellectual Property Office.
In 2016, Jordan won the right to his name in Chinese characters, but the Supreme Court upheld the firm’s right to use its trademark “Qiaodan” in Romanised English.
Qiaodan Sports said in a Weibo statement Tuesday that the ruling “would not impact the normal use of (its) existing trademarks, nor would it affect normal business operations.”
Founded in 2000, the sportswear franchise operates more than 5,700 stores nationwide.
It has registered around 200 trademarks based on the five-time National Basketball Association most valuable player since it was founded in 2010, including Jordan’s Chinese name and the phonetic version in English.
Last year, the company applied for 12 new trademarks involving Jordan’s name in Chinese, including “Qiaodan Superdry”, which are still waiting approval, according to the Trademark Office of National Intellectual Property Administration.
It has also applied for nearly 200 similarly named trademarks including different Chinese spellings of “Qiaodan”, “Flying Power” and “Qiaodan King”, according to the verdict.
In 2017, the sportswear brand New Balance was awarded $1.5 million in copyright damages by a Chinese court over its famous “N” logo, which was illegally copied by a local sports shoe firm.
The verdict — a rare victory for a Western brand in a Chinese intellectual property infringement case — was announced shortly after US President Donald Trump launched a sweeping investigation into China’s record on intellectual property.
The UN said this week that China became the world leader in international patent filings last year, unseating the United States which had held the top spot for more than four decades.