Michael Jordan Owns Right to His Name in Chinese Characters, Too, Court Rules
BEIJING — Michael Jordan has pulled out a victory in an arena long known as unfriendly to visitors.
China’s highest court on Thursday ruled largely in favor of Mr. Jordan, the former basketball star, in a landmark decision that lays out the ground rules for protecting personal names in trademark cases.
The decision held that Mr. Jordan owns the legal rights to the Chinese characters of the equivalent of his name, overturning previous lower-court rulings. The trademark dispute drew attention for the precedent it could set for foreign companies and celebrities pursuing similar cases in China.
The four-year lawsuit pitted Mr. Jordan against Qiaodan Sports Company, which he has accused of building a brand around the Mandarin transliteration of his name. The verdict, from the Supreme People’s Court, reversed previous rulings by lower courts in Beijing that said Qiaodan, based in the southern province of Fujian, could use the Chinese characters for Jordan to sell their goods.
这项为时四年的诉讼一方是乔丹，另一方是乔丹体育公司(Qiaodan Sports Company)，乔丹指责该公司把自己名字的普通话音译汉字做为品牌来使用。北京的下级法院之前的裁决是，位于南部省份福建的乔丹公司可以用汉字“乔丹”来销售商品，最高人民法院撤销了这个裁决。
The high court, however, said there was not sufficient evidence to show that Chinese consumers associated the Pinyin version — the Romanized system of the Chinese language — with Mr. Jordan’s name.
Mr. Jordan applauded the decision, saying in a written statement that his Chinese fans and other consumers in the country now knew that there was no connection between him and Qiaodan Sports.
“Nothing is more important than protecting your own name, and today’s decision shows the importance of that principle,” Mr. Jordan said.
In a statement on its Weibo account, Qiaodan (pronounced cheow-dahn) said that it respected the court’s ruling and that it would fulfill “the protection of its company’s brand and related intellectual property rights” in accordance with the law.
Lawyers say the verdict is important because it establishes the scope of protection for personal names in trademark cases, indicating that foreign celebrities can successfully challenge third parties that use the Chinese characters of their names in China.
“Although this is an individual case, the impact of this will be quite extensive,” said Li Shunde, a research specialist in intellectual-property law at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government think tank.
“I believe that foreign companies should be able to see this very clearly and this will enhance their continued investment or commercial activities in China as well as improve their expectations and confidence in this regard.”
Until the Jordan ruling, it was unclear how completely names were protected, resulting in inconsistent decisions from the administrative authorities and the courts.
The ruling, announced in a live broadcast online by the Supreme People’s Court, may reflect a renewed determination by Beijing to tackle the country’s rampant trademark infringement problem.
“It’s significant in that it’s the most high-profile case dealing with these types of rights,” said Scott Palmer, an intellectual property lawyer at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, which represents American corporations in China.
在华代表一些美国企业的美国盛智律师事务所(Sheppard, Mullin, Richter& Hampton)的知识产权律师彭明(Scott Palmer)说：“这个裁决意义重大，因为它是处理该类型权利的最引人瞩目的一个案件。”
“The Supreme Court has made the effort to televise their decision live, and this very clearly sends the message that the courts view this as a landmark decision,” he added.
The ruling could have broad implications for other foreign companies and celebrities, who have long complained of trademark infringement in China. Many Western companies, like Apple and Starbucks, and celebrities, including President-elect Donald J. Trump, have been caught up in long legal battles over the right to use their names in China.
这项裁决可能对其他外国公司和名人产生广泛影响，他们一直以来都对中国的商标侵权问题怨声载道。包括苹果和星巴克在内的许多西方公司，以及包括候任总统唐纳德·J·特朗普(Donald J. Trump)在内的很多名人，都卷入了在中国使用自己名字权利的长期法律纠纷中。
In May, a Chinese company won the right to sell its leather goods under the iPhone trademark after years of legal wrangling with Apple. New Balance paid $16 million in damages for what a court said was the illegal use of the Chinese name for the company, which a Chinese person had trademarked.
The ruling could hurt China’s so-called trademark squatters, people who foreign companies say have profited from registering the names of well-known brands. In China, trademarks are generally awarded to those who are first to file with the government.
A separate naming rights case involving Mr. Jordan’s name is still pending in Shanghai, according to the statement from Mr. Jordan’s public relations firm.