Michael Jordan is considered by many to be the greatest basketball player of all time. Beyond his five MVP trophies and six NBA championship rings, however Jordan also was the one of the most widely marketed athletic personalities in history. His name and image ultimately became iconic when Nike developed a new type of basketball shoe named “Air Jordan,” marked with the “Jumpman” logo – a silhouetted image of Jordan in mid-flight on his way to delivering a one-handed slam dunk.
Jordan’s fame knows almost no boundaries. He and former Houston Rockets star Yao Ming are the most popular international basketball stars in China, where Jordan is known as “Qiaodan.” Not surprisingly, and in the marked absence of any “Air Ming” footwear, Air Qiaodan sneakers have become popular in China. “Air Qiaodan” products are not endorsed or backed by Michael Jordan, rather they are manufactured and distributed by Qiaodan Sports Co. Beyond merely using Jordan’s Chinese name, Qiaodan’s products carry a logo closely resembling the “Jumpman” used on Nike’s “Air Jordan” products.
Believing that Qiaodan’s actions were causing confusion among Chinese consumers by misleading them into believing that Qiaodan Sports Co. was affiliated with His Airness, Jordan sought to cancel Qiaodan’s trademark. The Chinese lower courts refused to cancel Qiaodan’s trademarks, and the case was appealed to the Beijing Higher People’s Court. The Beijing Higher People’s Court has now ruled against Jordan.
The court noted that “’Jordan’ is not the only possible reference for ‘Qiaodan’ in the trademark under dispute.” The court also commented that “’Jordan’ is a common surname used by Americans.” Explaining its decision regarding Qiaodan’s use of the Jumpman logo, the court reasoned that the logo is in the shape of a person with no facial features, so therefore it is difficult for consumers to identify the Jumpman as Michael Jordan. The court therefore concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove the Qiaodan trademark referred to Michael Jordan or otherwise caused confusion among consumers.
While the Higher People’s Court’s ruling seems to be the outcome of a decision in search of an analysis, it should come as no surprise. China frequently reinforces its reputation of being a sanctuary for producers of counterfeit goods by failing to enforce international intellectual property rights.