Josh Escovedo practices in Weintraub’s Litigation and Intellectual Property sections. He counsels and advises clients in a variety of litigation matters with an emphasis on intellectual
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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.
Many who enjoy champagne have noticed that their favorite cuvée has quietly changed its label. Many of the world’s bottles of bubbly now indicate that they contain “sparkling wine” when they used to be “champagne.” Those who enjoy Basmati rice or Camembert cheese also have noticed changes to the names of their favorite products. What happened? Why we are now drinking sparkling wine when we used to enjoy champagne, or why we must settle for brie when we previously enjoyed Roquefort?
Although the names have changed, the products probably have not. Rather, many countries have created a system which recognizes and protects the value of the intellectual property associated with the geographic origin of certain products. Functioning like a trademark, a geographical indication can represent valuable intellectual property by identifying a particular region as the source of a certain product. Although not traditionally protected by trademark laws, geographical indications and designations of geographic origin have traditionally been afforded protection by various countries. Long known for its famous varieties of cheese, wine, and, of course, champagne, France introduced one of the first systems designed to protect geographical indications, known as appellation d’origine contrôlée, or the “AOC.” Sacre bleu! The AOC makes it unlawful to manufacture and sell a product under a geographical indication identified by the AOC unless that product complies with a set of strict criteria, including production of AOC-protected products in particular regions.