Michael Jordan may clean up in a closely watched trademark suit against a Chinese sportswear company — or he may not.
Whichever way it goes, the case could set a legal precedent for other foreign companies seeking to protect their property rights in the world’s second largest economy, Bloomberg reports.
In the appeal hearing that started on Tuesday, Jordan’s lawyers argued that Qiaodan Sports Co. Ltd., a family-owned business with about 6,000 shops selling shoes and sportswear throughout China, has damaged the basketball star’s legal rights to his name.
They are asking that the company’s trademark registrations be revoked.
Qiaodan, pronounced “Chee-ow dahn”, is a Mandarin transliteration of Jordan that was registered by the Chinese company more than a decade ago.
Jordan first sued the company in 2012 and lower courts have ruled on behalf of the Chinese company.
The case illustrates the challenges of Chinese intellectual property law for some foreign companies in the world’s fastest-growing consumer market.
The case could set an important legal precedent for trademark rights in China, and some legal scholars say the case offers the nation’s Supreme People’s Court an opportunity to present a positive image of the Chinese legal system.
“It’s an extremely influential case, and the final verdict from China’s top court would play a leading role in future similar cases,” said Li Shunde, a Chinese Academy of Social Sciences research specialist in intellectual-property law.
“China has been consolidating IP over the past years and apparently the authorities want to use this case to show that the country takes the IP issues very seriously and is devoting resources to protect the rights of foreign businesses.”
Other international companies, including Pfizer, have been stymied by China’s trademark laws.
China’s legal system generally protects whichever company that registers trademarks first.
Pfizer Inc.’s faced a similar hurdle when a Chinese party registered a phonetic name for its popular Viagra drug, which the pharmaceutical giant has been unsuccessful in fighting in court.
Li predicted that the top court will overturn the previous verdict that’s caused “huge debate,” he said.
The top court typically issues its rulings within days of hearing cases. However, court proceedings in China remain secretive, and the exact timing is uncertain.
The public hearing “could further demonstrate the openness and transparency of the Chinese court and present a positive image of the Chinese legal system,” according to a statement issued by the court Tuesday.
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