Michael Jordan slam dunks China trademark case, despite changing laws

Just this month, the news came through that China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) had ruled the names of public figures would not be allowed on trademarks. According to the court, “public figures in fields such as politics, economics, culture, religion and ethnic affairs” would not be allowed to be included in trademarks due to the “adverse influence” that doing so may cause.

It’s a ruling that seems to make logical sense — especially when you consider the recent efforts made by Donald Trump and the Kardashian family in attempting to trademark their surnames overseas — but it also seems to contradict the recent case in China involving the legendary basketball player Michael Jordan.

The case, which concluded in December 2016, saw Jordan suing the Chinese company Qiaodan Sports for misuse of his name — ‘Qioadan’ is the Chinese word for ‘Jordan’, and has been used by Chinese media since the 1980s to refer to the basketball player. Jordan took further shots at Qiaodan for using his ‘23’ jersey number and his famous ‘Jumpman’ logo on its merchandise, and claimed that such misuse had allowed the company’s revenue to grow from $45.6 million in 2007 to a huge $456.3 million in 2010.

After being rejected by several Chinese courts, Jordan eventually went to the SPC, who found that Qiaodan Sports had indeed misused his name for its own benefit — although admittedly, only three of the 68 trademark cases he brought to the court were found to be in breach of law. The ruling was a total slam-dunk from Jordan’s perspective, and Jed Ferdinand, founder and senior managing partner at law firm Ferdinand IP told IP Watchdog that the decision was “a big step for American brand owners looking to protect their marks in China”. But it also comes in stark contrast to the new ‘no VIPS’ rule implemented by the SPC — the very same court that ruled in favour of the Jordan case.

Although the rule doesn’t come in to effect until March 1, it’ll be interesting to observe whether there’s a shift in attitudes from China when it comes to similar cases in the future. Public figures are constantly seeking to protect their names overseas, but the SPC might have just made that process a whole lot more difficult.