Nike released the first Air Jordans in 1985 and they proved contentious as the first footwear to be worn in the NBA that had multiple colours. The league banned the shoes but Nike encouraged star player Michael Jordan to wear them, paying the fines each time he walked onto a court. The row stoked publicity and drove sales, says website Sneakerfiles.com.
Air Jordans may have been controversial from the start, but Nike executives probably didn’t think much about the Chinese market in those early days or the future legal wrangles ahead.
However, this month the US giant found itself being sued in a local court for trademark infringement for selling its Air Jordan shoes in China.
If that sounds baffling, you need to know some of the history. In 2000 a sportswear company named Jordan Sports (or Qiaodan Sports, to use its local name) registered the trademark for Jordan’s name. As the first to do so, it had legal standing (the rules work on a first come, first served basis in China). Nike subsequently filed 10 cases with the trademark review and adjudication board over the Jordan brand, claiming that Qiaodan has violated the US basketballer’s name and its own intellectual property. None of these claims were upheld.
Now Nike Sports China is on the receiving end of a suit from Qiaodan, which is suing it for infringement of its own trademark rights. Qiaodan claims that Nike companies have misappropriated Qiaodan-related keywords in their search engine rankings. The case has garnered a lot of attention locally – which may have been the Chinese firm’s intent, since controversy is generally good for sales.
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