Update on the Qiaodan-Michael Jordan Trademark Dispute

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Fujian-based sportswear and footwear producer Qiaodan Sports Co said Thursday that it may sue Michael Jordan for malicious prosecution in a counterstrike against a lawsuit the US basketball star filed against it in February.

If Qiaodan does decide to file a lawsuit, the charges would be “malicious prosecution, infringing upon the reputation of Qiaodan Sports and recurring economic losses,” the company said in an e-mail response to the Global Times Thursday. (Global Times)

This is amusing. There’s probably a 1% chance that Qiaodan will counterclaim against Jordan, and if it did, it would lose in a spectacular fashion. The damn case has already been accepted by the court! If it was wholly without merit it would have been thrown out.

And of course there is merit to Jordan’s legal theory. I wrote about this case back in February, comparing it to similar actions involving Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian. All of these cases involved rights of reputation, which under the Trademark Law are, if proven, sufficient to prevent trademark applications or cancel existing registrations. Can Jordan prove that his name was famous prior to the registration by the Qiaodan sporting goods company? I would think so.

Malicious lawsuit? Gimme a break.

So why is Qiaodan bothering with this threat? Here’s a hint:

The lawsuit was accepted by Shanghai No.2 Intermediate People’s Court in early March. But nine months later, the lawsuit has still not gone to trial.

Qiaodan Sports said it has been seeking a solution with Jordan since March[.]

Nine months and still no hearing? This is by no means unprecedented, but normally, one would expect a hearing by now. That, and the statement by Qiaodan, suggests that the court is pushing the parties to settle. No surprise there, and I bet that since we’re nearing the end of the year, that pressure will increase.

The threat by Qiaodan is therefore a (rather pitiful) attempt to gain a negotiating advantage, and of course Global Times went along with the ploy. Then again, I’m sure that Qiaodan could have found any number of media outlets to disseminate the counterclaim threat.

I have to admit that I’m having trouble imagining a settlement here. Both the court and Qiaodan are, I assume, trying to determine a price, the amount of money Jordan is willing to pay to get the trademark cancelled. This would be standard operating procedure for a trademark squatting case like this, at least one where the parties are forced to settle.

Since we don’t have a settlement, that means either the parties are too far apart on a price, or perhaps Jordan (or folks on his team) see this fight as one they can win and, more importantly, a black-and-white issue that does not invite compromise. I hear that latter kind of thinking in this statement:

“Michael decided to move forward with legal action to protect the use of his name and the interests of Chinese consumers. As both a professional athlete and a businessman, he has always played by the rules – and he expects the same of others,” a spokesperson for Jordan’s legal consultancy team said in an e-mail to the Global Times.

OK, admittedly, the part about Jordan always playing by the rules is funny as hell. I wasn’t asleep during the 80s and saw Jordan’s behavior on the court. But in this case, he certainly has the law on his side, and as is common with many trademark disputes, the hijacking of his name might piss him off in a big way and make a settlement difficult.

But judges can be quite convincing when they need to clear their dockets. It wouldn’t surprise me if we saw a settlement before Spring Festival, but you never know. Stay tuned.