Just learned that Michael Jordan filed a lawsuit today against Qiaodan Sports Company Limited — a Chinese sportswear and footwear manufacturer —  for unauthorized use of his name and identity.

According to the complaint, filed by the Jun He and Fangda Partners law firms, Qiaodan Sports has misused Michael Jordan’s name and identity on Qiaodan products and marketing materials and by so doing, Qiaodan Sports has intentionally misled consumers so as to profit from Michael Jordan’s name. According to Jordan, the Chinese company has improperly registered and “used the name “Qiaodan” (乔丹), which is the moniker Michael Jordan has been known by in China since he gained widespread popularity in the mid-1980s. Jordan’s website/press release on this case notes that 90% of young people outside China’s major cities think Jordan owns Qiaodan Sports.

Fangda Partners has experience with this sort of case, having prevailed on a similar case before the Beijing People’s Intermediate Court on behalf of Yi Jianlian in 2010. In that case, Yi Jianlian vs. Fujian Yi Jianlian Sport Goods Co., the court held that a celebrity’s name can become a “highly renowned trademark” warranting protection even that celebrity did not register the name. That court issues its decision on April 26, 2011 (World Intellectual Property Day). The judgment was affirmed on appeal to the Beijing High People’s Court, which stated that an “Individual’s name right should be recognized as a prior right as
defined under Article 31 of PRC Trademark law.” To prevail in such a case, the party seeking protection must have a “certain fame in the relevant area.”

In his press release, Jordan makes clear that he is bringing this case strictly to protect his name and identity and not for the damages he might win. Jordan is saying that he will donate every Yuan he wins to “growing the sport of basketball in China.”

It is not clear exactly under what laws this case is being brought but we note that Article 31 of the PRC Trademark Law provides that an application for trademark registration must not prejudice any preexisting right of anyone who has achieved a certain reputation.

According to Jordan’s website, the plaintiff in a naming rights lawsuit is entitled to injunctive relief and damages where: 1) the individual is a famous public figure; 2) the defendant acts in bad faith by intentionally using the plaintiff’s name or other personal attributes without authorization; and 3) the use of the plaintiff’s name or other personal attributes damages the plaintiff by causing confusion among consumers who mistakenly associate the infringer, its products or services with the plaintiff.

By all indications (I mean, how many people set up a website on their own lawsuit?) Jordan is very serious about this case. I have read (here) that someone way back in 2010 registered variants of Jeremy Lin’s name in China, but I think Lin’s case will be different simply because when Lin’s name was registered, he almost certainly did not have a “certain reputation.”

This case is obviously at its inception and I will write more once I know more.

2-23-2012 UPDATE:  For more on this case, I suggest you check out China Hearsay’s post here and this Wall Street Journal Article by Laurie Burkitt.