Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketball legends to ever play the game with one of the most historic endorsement deals, has filed a lawsuit in a Chinese court against a sports apparel company called Qiodan Sports Company Limited. The suit claims that the company, which loosely translates to mean “Jordan,” has confused Chinese consumers by using the “Jordan” brand name, image and likeness over the past 10 years.
Jordan joins other brands, such as Yao Ming who sued another Chinese company in 2011, in not only showing that China is making strides in the protection of Intellectual Property Rights, but taking control of the use of their brand. Whether a start-up or a multi-million dollar enterprise, it is important to manage and take the precautionary steps to protect one’s brand.
According to therealjordan.com, the two key reasons Jordan is suing are: (1) He wants to preserve the significant value of his name as a worldwide brand; and (2) he believes that Qiodan Sports has misled Chinese consumers, including Michael Jordan fans, and is profiting from the use of Jordan’s naming rights without his permission.
According to Randall E. McMillan, Esq., a veteran transactional attorney with entertainment and brand expertise, there are a couple of the key challenges the Jordan brand will face: (1) Proving that Chinese consumers are confused and may believe that the Jordan brand is synonymous with Qiodan; and (2) explaining why it took so long for them to bring a case against Qiodan. In the United States, there is a legal concept called “laches.” This concept bars someone from bringing a lawsuit if they have been aware of the issue for what the courts believe is an unreasonable amount of time before eventually deciding to sue. Had this claim been in the United States, it is possible that the Jordan brand lawsuit may have been dismissed simply because they took too long to sue if they had known about Qiodan’s actions for over a decade without taking action.
Since the 1980s, Chinese media has referred to Michael Jordan as “Qiodan” the Chinese translation of Jordan. Jordan’s team stated that a Shanghai sports market research company conducted a survey that showed 90 percent of young people in China’s small cities believed that Qiodan Sports and the Jordan brand were the same company. They also have testimonials from Chinese consumers who were misled.
Qiodan went from $45.6 million in revenues in 2007 to $456.3 million in 2010. However, Mr. Jordan says his lawsuit is not about the money. “It’s about principle and protecting my name,” he says. “Any monetary awards I might receive will be invested in growing the sport of basketball in China.”
Not every brand has the financial power of a Michael Jordan to go through the potential drawn out and taxing legal process to maintain the integrity of its name—domestically and internationally—but it’s a vital part of one’s success. Business owners must make a strong mark and not allow other businesses to come up with similar marks without addressing them. Owning your own brand is not only advantageous because of the case you will have against anyone trying to take your name, but also for the ability to build value and monetize your brand through licensing it and businesses or organizations to use it.