The Supreme People's Court (SPC) publicly tried a trademark dispute case lodged by U.S. basketball icon Michael Jordan against a Chinese firm and the trademark authority.
In 2012, Michael Jordan accused Qiaodan Sports Co. Ltd., a Chinese sportswear and shoe manufacturer, of unauthorized use of his name and identity. "Qiaodan" is the Chinese translation for Jordan.
Jordan lodged an appeal to the Trademark Review and Adjudication Board of the State Administration for Industry & Commerce to revoke the trademarks in dispute, but this was rejected.
Later, Jordan filed two lawsuits against the adjudication of the trademark authority but lost both.
Courts upheld the adjudication on the grounds that the Chinese translation "Qiaodan" is the translation of a common family name, and does not necessarily refer to the basketballer's name only. In addition, the Chinese translation "Qiaodan," as featured in the trademark, differs from the Chinese translation of "Maike'er Qiaodan," or "Michael Jordan."
Besides, the graphic part of the trademark, a silhouette of a man playing basketball, is a general image, featuring no facial appearances, making identification difficult, according to the verdict given at the second trial.
In 2015, Jordan appealed to the SPC for a retrial. The SPC accepted the appeal on the basis of the Administrative Procedural Law.
Tuesday's trial featured the court investigation, debates and final statements. A verdict has not been reached.
Court debates centered on a slew of issues, including the legal bases of the rights to a name, whether the trademark necessarily leads to identification of Michael Jordan, and whether Qiaodan Sports Co. Ltd. registered the brand name with intentional malice.
The SPC is trying this case in public on the World Intellectual Property Day, demonstrating the importance China attaches to intellectual property rights (IPR) protection, said Xue Jun, vice dean of the law school of Peking University.
China has toughened its stance against IPR infringement and fake products through a variety of measures, and the judicature has become a major authority in IPR disputes.
Court rulings are playing an increasingly important role in defining legal boundaries and codes of conduct, Song Xiaoming, head of the SPC's IPR tribunal, was quoted as saying in a report in Tuesday's edition of Legal Daily.
Putting administrative powers regarding patent, trademark and other IPR issues under judicial scrutiny has helped streamline law enforcement and promote the development of related industries, Song said.
Statistics from the SPC showed that between 2011 and 2015, local courts across China concluded 426,162 civil action trials over IPR-related disputes, an annual increase of 18.52 percent. Also, courts nationwide concluded over 49,000 criminal cases involving IPR violations.
Courts have successfully used mediation to solve disputes in many cases including one between Apple Inc. and Shenzhen-based Proview Technology over iPad trademark, and another between search engine Baidu and Universal Music and other music organizations over downloading.
Since 2011, the SPC has issued five judicial rulings involving IPR issues such as patent, trademark and courts' jurisdiction in relevant cases.
For better protection, IPR courts have been established in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou over recent years.
Song admitted that the judiciaries do not always grant adequate and timely remedies for IPR disputes but there will be more efforts in this regard.
Challenges remain for IPR protection as cases related to e-commerce and Internet increase.
Beijing Intellectual Property Court last year received 183 cases involving cyberspace copyright, and 350 e-commerce cases mainly involving popular online platforms including taobao.com, JD.com and baidu.com.
"While innovative technologies boosted by the country's Internet Plus strategy have enriched products and services, they also make trademark and copyright infringement more easier, hence, increasing the risks of IPR piracy," said Ma Xiang, a lawyer with Tiantai Law Firm, Beijing.
Instead of being confined to the traditional mindset of IPR protection, Ma suggested judicial authorities work out innovative ways to face the challenges.
A guideline released in December by the State Council ordered enhanced IPR protection to create a sound environment for innovators, vowing stricter punishments and saying protection in emerging sectors will be prioritized.
(Xinhua News Agency April 26, 2016)