Michael Jordan, the hall-of-fame basketball player who heads his own division at the world’s largest sporting-goods maker Nike Inc. (NKE), sued a Chinese maker of sportswear and shoes for unauthorized use of his name.
Jordan, who won six National Basketball Association championships with the Chicago Bulls, filed the lawsuit with a Chinese court against Qiaodan Sports Co. (QDTYSZ), according to a statement distributed by PR Newswire. The Chinese company, which is preparing to raise 1.06 billion yuan ($168 million) in a listing in Shanghai, is accused of using Jordan’s Chinese name and jersey number 23 without permission.
“It is deeply disappointing to see a company build a business off my Chinese name without my permission, use the number 23 and even attempt to use the names of my children,” Jordan said in a statement. “I am taking this action to preserve ownership of my name and my brand.”
NBA games shown on state broadcaster China Central Television and Chinese players including Yao Ming have helped make basketball the nation’s second-most popular sport. Nike, which counts Jordan and current NBA stars Kobe Bryant and Lebron James among its endorsers, said its sales in China for the quarter ended Nov. 30 rose 28 percent from a year earlier to $650 million when excluding currency changes.
Asked if Nike was involved in the lawsuit, Josh Gartner, a spokesman for Jordan’s legal team, said by e-mail that the former NBA player “is employing his own legal counsel.”
The company’s name and its trademark are the same as the Chinese version of Jordan’s name.
The Chinese company, with registered capital of 450 million yuan and based in Southern China’s Fujian province, won approval from the nation’s securities regulator in November for an initial public offering of 112.5 million shares.
In its IPO prospectus released on Nov. 21, Qiaodan said investors should be aware of potential trademark risks, saying some consumers may link the company and its products to Jordan due to confusion, though it claimed to have no commercial relationships with the former NBA star and has never used his image in promotions.
Jordan hadn’t raised any complaints against Qiaodan regarding the trademark since the company was established in 2000, according to the prospectus posted on the website of the China Securities Regulatory Commission.
“‘Qiaodan’ is a brand we registered according to Chinese law, and its lawful use should be protected,” Qiaodan said in a statement posted on its website yesterday. “We will make further clarification through our website if there’s any development.” The company said it hadn’t received any court notice as of noon yesterday.
Qiaodan has opened 5,715 retail outlets in all 31 of China’s provinces and municipalities, according to the prospectus. In 2011, the company signed Chuck Hayes, currently a member of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, to a sponsorship agreement, according to the prospectus.
Jordan said in the statement issued yesterday that any monetary awards from the lawsuit “will be invested in growing the sport of basketball in China.”
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