Headline Sports Law

Michael Jordan Continues To Litigate Over Intellectual Property Issues

I have been provided the opportunity to sit in on a class taught by ESPN and Sports Illustrated writer Andrew Brandt that is called “Business and Legal Aspects of Professional Sports.” Brandt is teaching the class through Villanova University’s online offering, which makes it easy for anyone to access the content. This article is part of a series of posts that I am crafting for Brandt’s class.

Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan unveils the new Charlotte Hornets logo at halftime during the game against the Utah Jazz at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan. Photo Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Jordan is no novice when it comes to the law. The former National Basketball League superstar and current owner of the Charlotte Hornets recently won a court battle over a supermarket’s wrongful use of his publicity rights and will have to pay Jordan $8.9 million unless there is an appeal and that amount is reduced or completely eliminated.

That case is not the only one Jordan has been involved in when it comes to intellectual property. Whereas the supermarket situation involved the wrongful use of Jordan’s name in conjunction with an advertisement, Jordan has a separate lawsuit against a Chinese company, which is now heading to China’s supreme court.

Jordan has sued Qiaodan Sports for selling apparel that contains the Chinese translation of Jordan’s name (“Qiaodan”) along with his popular jersey number (#23). It is a case founded in the realm of trademark law, with Jordan seeking damages for what he claims to be an act of trademark infringement by the Chinese apparel company. The key issue is whether Qiaodan Sports’ use of the name Qiaodan and/or #23 creates a likelihood of confusion among the relevant market of consumers, causing them to likely believe that Jordan is behind the brand and its products. Since trademark law can be a tricky subject, only a trademark lawyer could give a real insight into this case, and answer whether or not Jordan has a chance of winning against Qiaodan. It is interesting to follow.

Thus far, Qiaodan is winning the legal battle, with the lower court and a court of appeals ruling in favor of the sports apparel brand. However, Jordan has proven willing and ready to appeal to the highest court in China in order to have his case heard and with the hope that he will ultimately prevail despite initial signs that indicate otherwise.

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By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.