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Michael Jordan Battles for His Trademark in China

Thu May 21st, 2015 by  Trademarks

Speak Chinese? We don’t either, but apparently, Michael Jordan is known as “Qiaodan” in China and wants control over the name.

In 2012, Jordan sued Qiaodan Sports, a Chinese company he accuses of using his name and jersey number, 23, to sell goods without his consent. Perhaps surprisingly, Qiaodan Sports has prevailed before two courts, and Jordan will now appeal the case to the Supreme People’s Court, China’s highest court. Learn more here.

Could this happen in the U.S.? Could an individual or company register a trademark on your name and prevent you from selling goods bearing your name? Probably not.

Under Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will refuse to register a mark that consists of “matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.”

Pursuant to the Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure, to establish that a proposed mark falsely suggests a connection with a person or an institution, it must be shown that:

  • the mark is the same as, or a close approximation of, the name or identity previously used by another person or institution;
  • the mark would be recognized as such, in that it points uniquely and unmistakably to that person or institution;
  • the person or institution named by the mark is not connected with the activities performed by the applicant under the mark; and
  • the fame or reputation of the person or institution is such that, when the mark is used with the applicant’s goods or services, a connection with the person or institution would be presumed.

Jordan could also rely on Section 2(c), under which the PTO will refuse a mark that “[c]onsists of or comprises a name, portrait, or signature identifying a particular living individual except by his written consent.”

In sum, if Qiaodan Sports had attempted to register MICHAEL JORDAN here in the U.S., it likely would have run into trouble absent Jordan’s permission.