While few outside of China have heard of Qiao Dan, his presence in the United States is known by all. In a rare ruling for Western companies and individuals, the Chinese Supreme Court ruled in favor of Michael Jordan, ending an eight-year battle with Qiaodan Sports—a Chinese sportswear company. For years, Qiaodan Sports has been using a transliteration of “Jordan” (“Qiaodan”) to produce knock-off products and mislead consumers about its goods.
In 2012, Michael Jordan initially brought suit against Qiaodan Sports in an attempt to invalidate several of Qiaodan Sports trademarks that illegally misappropriated his name. Then in 2016, Michael Jordan secured a small victory against Qiaodan Sports, preventing them from using the Chinese characters for Jordan. However, he fell short of preventing them from using the Romanized version, “Qiaodan.” While it was a victory for Michael Jordan, it was more of a free throw than a slam dunk. Since the ruling in 2016, Michael Jordan and Nike continued their legal fight, eventually taking the case to the Chinese Supreme Court.
Recently, the Chinese Supreme Court issued its ruling in favor of Michael Jordan and overturned two previous Chinese court rulings in favor of Qiaodan Sports. This new ruling by China’s highest court prohibits Qiaodan Sports from using the transliteration of Jordan; however, the Chinese Supreme Court declined to extend its decision to the basketball player silhouette. In particular, the Chinese Supreme Court stated that for protection to extend to silhouettes under an individual’s “right to portrait,” the silhouette should contain enough identifiable characteristics that would allow the public to identify the individual being portrayed.
Overall, while this most recent ruling is a slam dunk for Michael Jordan, it has yet to been seen if the ruling by the Chinese Supreme Court is a blip on the radar or the first of many decisions in the continued push for greater intellectual property protection in China for western brands.