We know him as Michael Jordan, but in China, His Airness is known as "Qiaodan." It turns out that's a problem for MJ, who is having to battle in Chinese courts for legal right to his own name -- and so far, he's losing.
Jordan is embroiled in a lawsuit against Qiaodan Sports -- again, this business name is equivalent to "Michael Jordan Sports" -- on grounds that the company has used his Chinese name and his jersey number "23" to sell sportswear and other memorabilia. The company has done so without Jordan's permission, and without giving him any compensation.
It would seem Jordan has a pretty strong case in the trademark dispute. But a ruling by Beijing Municipal High People's Court actually ruled against Jordan, upholding Qiaodan's right to use the name and number.
Jordan will now take the case to China's highest court in an attempt to gain control over his name and brand. Meanwhile, the former Chicago Bulls star is just the latest example of a disturbing trend that is seeing Chinese companies rip off foreign brands by violating trademark. New Balance reportedly lost a trademark lawsuit that required the company to pay $16 million, according to Chinese state media reports.
Meanwhile, Chinese fast food chain Yonghe Dawang uses branding designed to closely resemble KFC, including a Chinese "Colonel" modeled after the original. The similarities are evident in the photo below:
It's hard to say how Jordan might come out of this legal battle. Reuters reports that he was sued in 2013 by Qiaodan Sports for $8 million due to the damage he has caused to its reputation. It's unclear if that lawsuit has been resolved.
Even if Jordan escapes any monetary actions resulting from the court case, his brand will suffer greatly from weak trademark rights in China. Basketball is one of the most popular sports in the country, and Michael Jordan remains one of the most popular athletes even to this day.
But unless the high court overturns the previous decision, he won't have control over his own name.