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The Power of A Trademark: Michael Jordan vs. China

Michael Jordan filed a lawsuit back in 2012, in China, for the use of his name and brand. He recently lost this case.

In the Chinese language, his name Jordan is “Qiaodan.” And the symbol being used is identical to the same one used in America. The judge’s reasoning why his claims don’t stand is because the image does not have a face on it to clearly identify him; and the name Jordan is a common name used in America and Qiaodan is not only used for the name Jordan.

Having experience with Intellectual Property, my first question is was the Jordan name and image trademarked in China? Are there international patents and/or trademarks in place? This is a major concern, because had it been, then the fight between their trademark and the Jordan trademark would be the first basis to contend. Where there loop holes in the Jordan trademark that allowed the Qiaodan trademark?

It’s easy for one to assume that someone like Michael Jordan’s legal team would know how to prepare for this defense. This brings high concern. What is the wording used in the trademark? Is it outdated? It seems to me someone did not cross the “t” and dot the “i”. Most of the manufacturing has been in China so of course they know how to make it and what design they use. Where was the protection?

This leads me to this thought, no matter how experienced a company; it can always use the advice of a business professional. An advisor can help you bring your business up-to-date and make sure you are relevant to the times. I am pretty sure that had there been someone who could look into the company and offer advice on where it could be better, then maybe they could have caught this missing link before there was a case. There is the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it” but in a world like today that changes by the minute, “fixing” is a must. Of course people love to buy the same Jordan’s they were selling 10 years ago over and over again. So the brand is very stable, it’s the international protection that’s missing. Of course now they should make sure that there are trademarks in place in other countries.

International patents are very expensive and time consuming. You have to have “eyes” everywhere to make sure you are not being infringed upon. The laws that govern intellectual property vary by country. Experienced attorneys and representatives can help lighten the load and legal woes. Of course the Jordan brand will continue to make money regardless. But, the idea that someone else is making money off of a strikingly close resemblance is extremely frustrating. This is no different than a song writer or producer being the victim or offender of copyright infringement. Take for instance Pharrell and Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines.” They lost the case because there was a concern that he sampled a popular Marvin Gaye song. Pharrell spoke with Oprah about the situation and stated that he did not sample the song, but with such legalities in order it leaves the question how can an artist use inspiration? Maybe to some, using this same idea applies. There is nothing new under the sun, but where are the lines of inspiration blurred when it comes to being innovative?

So maybe the Jordan brand can take it as it as compliment that someone likes them so much they were “inspired” to make a similar shoe with a similar image? Or maybe they really stole the idea and Jordan’s lack of trademark allowed such an action to occur. No matter, it’s never too late to get the advice of a professional to make sure your company’s paperwork and protection are up-to-date. It could mean millions and even billions!

Inventor, Actress, writer, seamstress. I am a member of the Chicago Inventors Organization and I do consulting for new inventors. Live Life Fearless.

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