2017 Opens with More Positive Trademark Developments

The SAIC has announced that it has  amended its TM review and examination standards (“Trademark Review and Examination Standards”).  The revised standards, with a date of December 2016, are available here. The revisions incorporate revisions to Articles 19, 50, 15.2, 1and 10 of the Trademark Law.

In addition, the Supreme People’s Court published a judicial interpretation on Certain Issues Related to Trials of Administrative Cases Involving the Grant and Confirmation of Trademark Rights 最高人民法院关于审理商标授权确权行政案件若干问题的规定.  A public comment draft of the JI was circulated as early as 2014; the final version was released at a press conference on January 11, 2017.   The JI clarifies the application of “adverse influence” in Article 10(1)8 and “other improper means” in Article 44(1) of trademark law and provides details on prior rights of Article 32  including copyright, naming right, trade name,  amongst other provisions.   The Financial Times has suggested that the JI is linked to the Qiaodan case , although as the Chinese media as noted, Qiaodan may also be seen as one of a series of cases providing more expansive relief against abusive registrations and recognizing more extensive related rights, such as naming rights and even merchandising rights.  In an unrelated development, the SPC on January 7, 2017 listed the Qiaodan case  as one of the top 10 civil and administrative cases for 2016.

 The 2016 JCCT obligated China to “take further efforts to address bad faith trademark filings”, according to the recently released Joint Fact Sheet. The amended examination guidleines, JI, and related case developments, including the development of case law in IP,  should help implement this commitment. 

Jordan/Qiaodan Trademark Case – Translation Now Available Here

Thanks to the hard work of Jessie Zeng 曾 潇 of Tsinghua University Law School, and the support of his professor, former Chief Judge Randall Rader, we now have a translation of the Michael Jordan/Qiaodan case.  Here is a translation of the decision in word formatJessie Zeng has also kindly provided a translation of cited laws in the decision.

On first impression, the case has significant implications for entertainment law, trademark rights for well known foreign individuals in China as well  bad faith issues.  Here are some key points: 

A) The SPC overturned Beijing High Court’s view that required a definitive association between Qiaodan and Michael Jordan, but instead required a stable association.  The court relied heavily on general civil doctrine, including tort law, IP law and advertising law in making its analysis.  The court also noted that, with respect to foreigners,  the key factor is that the relevant public in China has gotten used to calling the foreigner with a Chinese name in translation.

B) The court also admitted a range of evidence to support the fame and reputation of Michael Jordan as proof of bad faith by Qiaodan, including a large number of articles, endorsements and survey data.

C) The court recognized that, with respect to foreign names,  sometimes the public may use a name for the individual that is different from the name the person actively uses, and that this name should be protectable.

D) The court also noted that Qiaodan’s prior investment activities and brand promotion did not give it any “squatter’s rights”, noting that “Qiao Dan Inc.’s operation condition, its efforts in related trademarks’ publicity, use, related trademarks’ awarded prizes and received protection and etc. cannot make the disputed trademark’s registration legitimate.” Qiaodan operates about 6,000 stores in China.  The case is in a sense a warning shot to trademark pirates that a business model based on bad faith is risky in today’s China.

In fact, in the many years that I have followed this case one of my greatest concerns was how much a court would be unwilling to disrupt expectations built around a bad faith business model.  Viewed as a political statement, the SPC is sending a strong and laudable signal by saying that relatively settled expectations based on bad faith registrations will not legitimize these trademark registrations and indeed can end up being quite costly.  Times are changing…

My thanks, once again, to Jessie Zeng! 

(Note: Translation revision: January 6, 2017).

 

Jordan Wins Trademark Battle in China: Milk and Honey On the Other Side?

Michael Jordan won a partial victory in his 10 trademark  administrative appeals involving the Qiaodan sporting goods company for the 乔丹 (Jordan) mark at the Supreme People’s court.  Here’s a Chinese summary of the case from Sina.com, and an article from the Associated Press. 

The trial of the case was heard on World IP Day (April 26, 2016), was presided by SPC Justice Madame Tao Kaiyuan, and was attended by former CAFC Chief Judge Randall Rader, as an observer.

The decision reportedly grants to Michael Jordan and Nike the picture mark and the Chinese characters associated with Qiaodan.  Jordan and Nike did not win the pinyin (Romanized) Qiaodan because that can be expressed in many different ways in Chinese ideographs. 

The Chinese press is treating this as a win for Jordan and NIKE.  The Qiaodan website was dismissive of the case, noting that it had won 65 prior cases involving the mark.  In a somewhat related matter, as of this morning (November 8), I found online platforms, including in the US,  offering Qiaodan products under the Qiaodan name.  I  also did not find the Qiaodan name in pinyin registered at USPTO.

Michael Jordan, in a statement to Reuters noted that “I am happy that the Supreme People’s Court has recognized the right to protect my name through its ruling in the trademark cases,” and that “Chinese consumers deserve to know that Qiaodan Sports and its products have no connection to me.”  The Qiaodan Company had previously brought a suit against Michael Jordan for trademark law suits that delayed its plays for a public offering. 

My initial impression is that the case does show the willingness of the Chinese judiciary to tackle issues arising from bad faith registrations that can raise some of the more thorny issues, as they may involve business models based on rights that may not have been obtained in good faith.  This decision is one of several indications that China is seeking to heighten its continuing efforts to address squatting, in the fact of a giant Chinese Trademark Office case load (over 3 million applications in 2016), a huge trademark docket at Beijing’s IP court, a commitment at this year’s JCCT to undertake further efforts to combat bad faith filings, recent efforts to improve the environment for entertainment law including some decisions favoring “merchandising rights”, and a recent positive decision for a mark involving President-elect Donald Trump.

Postscript Dec. 13, 2016: Here’s a presentation that an SAIC official recently gave at a public program at USPTO on how the agency is dealing with badfaith filings.

I hope to make a full copy of the SPC decision available on this website, once I receive a translation.

Note for non-native English speakers: “Milk and honey on the other side” in the title of this blog is drawn from the folk song/ spiritual “Michael Row  Your Boat Ashore”.