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Michael Jordan has been all about protecting his image as of late, and now he's taken the fight all the way to China. The basketball superstar has filed a lawsuit against sportswear company Qiaodan Sports, accusing it of illegally using his name and jersey number.
Qiaodan is Jordan's Chinese nickname, and it has appeared on millions of dollars worth of merchandise since 2000. The company claims it has a right to exploit Jordan's Chinese nickname, having trademarked it under local law.
Does Michael Jordan's Chinese lawsuit have a chance?
Quite possibly, according to the respected authors of China Law Blog. The attorneys representing Jordan have won similar trademark claims in the past. In one such case, the court ruled that a celebrity's name is unto itself a "highly renowned trademark." A well-known celebrity therefore has a prior right to his name even though he has not registered it or used it to sell products.
This ruling closely resembles American trademark law. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office routinely blocks trademark applications that seek to register a famous person's name without prior permission. An unapproved celebrity trademark gives the false impression that the individual endorses the products it adorns.
Trademark law is supposed to prevent consumer confusion, not create it.
The same logic would likely apply to celebrities who are exclusively or commonly referred to by a unique nickname. So if Michael Jordan's Chinese nickname was commonly used in the U.S., Qiaodan Sports probably wouldn't have been able to trademark it under American law.