On 8 December 2016, the PRC Supreme People’s Court (“Supreme Court”) rendered a partially favourable decision to the former basketball star Michael Jordan in his four-year battle against a China-based sportswear company i.e. Qiaodan Sports Company Limited (“Qiaodan Sports”) on the use of his name. This is a landmark decision that lays out the ground rules for protecting personal names in trademark cases.
Background and Case Introduction
Michael Jordan is one of the world’s most recognisable athletes, whose name became well-known since the 1980s on the international stage. In 2000, Qiaodan Sports, which mainly engaged in manufacturing and selling sportswear and shoes, registered “乔丹” (the Chinese version of “Jordan” in Chinese characters) and “Qiaodan” (the Pinyin (phonetic spelling) of “乔丹”) (collectively “Qiaodan Sports Trademarks”) as trademarks on sports products in China. Nowadays this company operates over 6,000 stores in China with an annual turnover of approximately RMB 4 billion.
In 2012, Michael Jordan requested the Trademark Review and Adjudication Board (“TRAB”) to cancel the registration of the Qiaodan Sports Trademarks. However, the above cancellation applications were rejected by the TRAB. After that Michael Jordan started litigation at the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate Court and further at the Beijing High Court, but the above courts maintained the decisions made by the TRAB. Finally, Michael Jordan applied to the Supreme Court requesting a retrial, in which the TRAB was the defendant and Qiaodan Sports was the third party. The Supreme Court ruled that the registration of the Qiaodan Sports Trademarks “乔丹” is in violation of the PRC Trademark Law, and, thus, their registration shall be cancelled. However, as to the “Qiaodan” trademarks, the Supreme Court ruled that Michael Jordan has no exclusive rights to the use of the phonetic spelling of “Qiaodan”, and, thus, the court rejected his claims in this regard.
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