The Wall Street Journal had a great headline: “In China, Air cheow-DAN Cries Foul.”
Saying, “I felt the need to protect my name, my identity, and the Chinese consumer,” Michael Jordan is suing the Chinese firm Qiaodan for using his name as its trademark. Pronounced cheow-DAN in Mandarin, the firm sells basketball shoes and jerseys in its 5700+ outlets.
Michael Jordan is not alone. Apple for the iPad, Hermes, and General Motors saying the Chinese name Chery Automobile was like Chevy, have also battled the Chinese to preserve their trademark rights. Soon Jeremy Lin might have the same problem. A Chinese firm paid $708 for the rights to his name from a Chinese trademark office (not Lin).
An economist would say that we have a classic free rider problem. Firms copying trademarks are benefiting from the real owner’s designs, time, quality control and reputation.
We should add that all WTO (World Trade Organization) members are required to observe trademark recognition rules in TRIPS (Agreement on Trade-Related aspects of Intellectual Property). China is a WTO member.
Sources and Resources: This FT blog has best summary of the trademark battles in China while you might find this textbook excerpt ideal for some trademark background. For more specifics on the Michael Jordan suit, this WSJ article and this Quartz article provide the details. Meanwhile, in “Sole Rights,” econlife looked at a trademark battle in the US.