China’s Top Court Rules Michael Jordan Has Right To His Own Name: A Win For International Companies

Michael Jordan wins the right to his own name in China's top court following a landmark trademark battle. This is a major win for international companies with regard to the world's second largest market.
March 26, 2017

Hall-of-Famer, Michael Jordan is known by most in the United States, but now he is making headlines in the highest populated country in the world. [1] Jordan sought rights to his name in Chinese characters in a trademark case that made its way to China’s highest court.  [2]

After four years in court, Jordan’s legal battle with local sportswear maker Qiaodan Sports Company, which he accused of “building a brand around the Mandarin transliteration of his name,” has come to an end. [3].“Qiaodan” is the Chinese rendering of “Jordan” and the company has over 6,000 stores throughout China. [4]

Jordan did not give Qiaodan permission to use his name, nor his famous jersey number “23” around which they built their business around in the “basketball-mad China,” causing Jordan to bring suit in 2012. [5]

Jordan claims that Qiaodan has damaged his legal rights to use his name, and sought that the court invalidate more than 60 trademarks in use by the company. [6]

Jordan’s legal battle ended with China’s top court granting him the right to his own name spelled with Chinese characters, overruling lower court decisions. [7] Jordan did not win all claims he sought in court, however. The Court found that they could not prevent Qiaodan from spelling Jordan’s Chinese name phonetically using the English alphabet. [8] The Court also found that there was not sufficient evidence to show that Chinese customers associate the Romanized system of the Chinese language with Jordan’s name. [9]

Still, large international companies and lawyers say this verdict is important in establishing the protection of intellectual property rights for foreign companies in the world’s second largest economy. [10]


[1] Daniela Wei et al., Michael Jordan Wins Rights to His Chinese Name in Court, BLOOMBERG (Dec. 8, 2016, 4:16 PM), https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-08/michael-jordan-wins-rights-to-his-chinese-name-in-china-court-iwftaroy

[2] Id.

[3] Sui-Lee Wee, Michael Jordan Owns Right to His Name in Chinese Characters, Too, Court Rules, N.Y. TIMES (Dec. 7, 2016), https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/07/business/international/china-michael-jordan-trademark-lawsuit.html?_r=0.

[4] Jethro Mullen, Michael Jordan win his Chinese name back, CNN MONEY, (Dec. 8, 2016, 6:20 AM), http://money.cnn.com/2016/12/08/investing/michael-jordan-china-name-qiaodan-sports/.

[5] Adam Jourdan, China’s top court rules in Michael Jordan’s favor in trademark case, REUTERS (Dec. 8, 2016, 12:01 PM), http://www.reuters.com/article/us-michael-jordan-china-trademark-idUSKBN13X08R.

[6] Id.

[7] Sui-Lee Wee, supra note 3.

[8] Michael Jordan wins rights to his Chinese name in trademark battle, THE GUARDIAN (Dec. 8, 2016, 9:04 PM), https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/08/michael-jordan-scores-partial-victory-china-trademark-case-qiaodan.

[9] Sui-Lee Wee, supra note 3.

[10] Daniela Wei et al., supra note 1.