The NBA and Its Continuing Trademark Battles

The July 9 issue of the SIPO Newspaper/ Trademark Weekly (http://www.tmweek.com/yw_list_danye.asp?newsid=1624) reports that Nike and Kobe Bryant are involved in the latest skirmish with an alleged trademark squatter.  A natural person in Fujian person has applied for a mark in class 18 for “科比 KB-KOBE” and obtained a registration against the opposition of Nike.  Nike asserted before the Trademark Review and Adjudication Board  that the mark infringed Kobe Bryant’s personality rights (rights to the name), and was in bad faith, and has since appealed the matter to the Beijing Number 1 Intermediate Court.

This is not, of course, the first instance where NBA stars have faced problems with trademark squatting, including cross-class protection.  Perhaps one of the more well-known instance some years ago was use of the Yao Ming name on feminine sanitary products, which Yao Ming was successful in blocking.

The trademark issues are of course further compounded by concerns about counterfeiting, including exports of counterfeit goods.  According to 2011 US Customs data, footwear, wearing apparel and other sporting goods continue to constitute a leading proportion of US Customs seizures of infringing goods by quantity or value, and  counterfeit goods are calculated to have large mark-ups to MSRP when they are sold in the United States.  Overall, China was the origin of 62% of US Customs seizures in 2011, and Hong Kong was responsible for another 18%.  http://www.cbp.gov/linkhandler/cgov/trade/priority_trade/ipr/ipr_communications/seizure/ipr_seizures_fy2011.ctt/ipr_seizure_fy2011.pdf

Let’s hope revisions to the Trademark Law can help reduce the incidence of squatting and improve the enforcement environment for Chinese and foreigners alike.

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