Jordan faces challenge in a new court from Qiaodan

Updated: 2012-02-24 08:09

By Wang Wen and Sun Xiaochen (China Daily)

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BEIJING - Qiaodan Sports, the company sued by US basketball legend Michael Jordan for unauthorized use of his name, defended itself by stressing its brand "cannot be identified with Michael Jordan".

Jordan filed a lawsuit against the Chinese company on Thursday morning. He accused the company, based in Jinjiang in East China's Fujian province, of building its business around his name in Chinese and jersey number without his permission. The firm denied the accusation.

"We just use a Chinese translation of a common foreign family name and it cannot be identified with Michael Jordan," said Hou Lidong, manager of the public relations department of Qiaodan Sports.

Later, the company issued a statement, saying the brand, Chinese Qiaodan, is legally registered in China and protected by domestic law.

A similar statement was also presented in Qiaodan Sports' prospectus, which was sent to the China Security Regulatory Commission in December 2011. The company is preparing to be listed in Shanghai.

"The brand and trademark of Qiaodan Sports do not infringe Michael Jordan's name right and other rights," it said in the prospectus. A name dispute is listed as a risk hindering the company's listing effort in the prospectus.

Kang Yi, a Chinese lawyer representing Michael Jordan, told China Daily the US superstar asked Qiaodan Sports to stop infringement.

The Chinese company has been using the brand since 2000 and even managed to become an international brand by signing current Sacramento Kings' center Chuck Hayes as its brand ambassador last year.

Kang said that Jordan was only aware of the Chinese company at the end of 2011 and then approached the law firm. This seemed to address questions as to why Jordan waited for 12 years to launch the lawsuit.

"We request tens of millions yuan of compensation, because the company gained huge economic interests from infringing Jordan's name rights," Kang, partner of Jun He Law Offices in Beijing, said, although she refused to tell the exact number.

The compensation will be used to help China's basketball development, Jordan said in a video posting on his official website. "It's not about the money. It's about principle - protecting my identity and my name," he said.

Jordan and his lawyer are waiting for the court's reply. It usually takes one week for a court to decide whether to accept a lawsuit or not, Kang said.

However, Jordan's lawsuit may be difficult to win, experts said.

The main divergence point between the two sides is whether Qiaodan, the Chinese translation of Jordan, is equal to Michael Jordan, said Fu Minrong, a lawyer of Xinwenhui Law Firm in Shanghai.

Fu said the plaintiff needs to present proof, but the court might not accept the proof, because Qiaodan Sports uses Chinese rather than English.

But the Chinese company's actions may constitute an act of unfair competition, Fu said, because the company actually profits from making connections between its brand and Michael Jordan.

Statistics from Qiaodan Sports show that the company has 5,374 stores in China and made 520 million yuan ($82.7 million) in net profits in 2010.

It has emerged as one of China's leading sportswear manufacturers.

Signing deals with the Chinese and Russian university sports federations, the company has provided sportswear for both countries' delegations at the 25th and 26th Universiade in 2009 and 2011.

However, its international credit was questioned after the Federation of International Basketball Association claimed that its widely recognized "official partnership" with FIBA was "unauthorized".

According to Titan Sports, a Chinese sports media organization, Qiaodan Sports announced it reached a strategic partnership with FIBA on June 12, 2010, and was authorized to sell FIBA's products through its outlets in China.

"Qiaodan Sports didn't ink any official contract with the FIBA. They are basically using our marks without our authorization," an official from the FIBA headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, told China Daily on condition of anonymity.

The official, who works for the communication and marketing department of the FIBA, stressed a potential lawsuit could be filed if Qiaodan Sports continues violating FIBA's rights.

China Daily