Nike Sues French Firm for IP Violations… in China

Wednesday, July 18, 2007 5:33

Nike Jordan

All too often, the discussions surrounding IP infringement in China focus on how Chinese firm copied the product, a technology, or a process of a foreign firm.

Sometimes, this occurs as part of a JV arrangement where a partner will set up a second line, sometimes a savvy manufacturer will reverse engineers a product, and at other times it is simply using the logo, brand, or trademark of a product or brand.

What is not discussed is the role of foreign companies operating in China, and how often foreigners will ask manufacturers to make products that are “similiar”… i.e. close enough to look or function the same, but not close enough to be considered an IP violation (see Watch out!: Foreigner on Foreigner Crime on the Rise)

For Nike, where imagery and branding are considered competitive advantages, protecting brands, trademarks, and other images is critically important. A point proven when they sued Lining a few years back.

Now Nike is back on the offensive and has sued the French firm Auchan and 2 Chinese manufacturers for manufacturing and distributing shoes using the Jordan trademark/ image.

Nike is demanding the three – the shoe companies based in Jinjiang, Fujian Province, and the Shanghai branch of France-based retailer Auchan – to stop the infringement, make a public apology, and pay compensation of 1 million yuan ($131,000).

What is Auchan’s response you ask?

the defendants as questioning the validity of Nike’s claims, saying the logo wasn’t well known in China, and disputing the amount of damages demanded

How can one argue with that?

It is not as if Michael Jordan was all that good at the game, or that his airwalk shoes weren’t one of the best sellers EVER.

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6 Responses to “Nike Sues French Firm for IP Violations… in China”

  1. China Law Blog says:

    July 18th, 2007 at 10:23 am

    I attended a China IP seminar a year or so ago at which a Nike in-house counsel spoke. Nike understands China and China IP as well as any company. They know exactly what they are doing. So when I saw the news on this lawsuit, I read a bunch of articles on it, but not a single one addressed the most obvious issue here: did Nike register this logo in China. I have to believe it did, and until we know the answer to that question, there is no point in debating the “famous trademark” issue. Remember though, the question is not whether the logo is famous, it’s whether it is famous IN CHINA. But I am convinced Nike will never have to make that argument becuase the logo was registered.

  2. Rich says:

    July 18th, 2007 at 11:15 am


    Correct me if I am wrong, but the above in Nike’s mind would be considered a trademark?

    If so… I am wondering whether or not they would have even thought to register it as a logo.

    From a legal standpoint, this actually could open up a really bad door. After all, if Nike cannot protect Jordan’s famed airwalk (clearly ripped off the back of a shoe), what is to stop groups from using other product attributes and designs?

    How far do companies need to go to protect that? Can they?


  3. China Law Blog says:

    July 18th, 2007 at 6:47 pm

    Rich —

    One can file to protect a trademark in a name OR in a logo, or in a name+logo. For instance, Starbucks has filed for over 200+ trademarks in China and some of them are little more than green circles. I have to believe Nike registered this logo in China and, in fact, I am going to e-mail their international in-house counsel and ask him. The articles written so far (at least as of the last time I looked, which was yesterday) have been silent on this and they really should have researched it before even running the story.

  4. Rich says:

    July 19th, 2007 at 4:39 am

    Thanks for the explanation.

    I too would be interested, and I hope for Nike’s case that this was not on of the images/ logos they never thought to register.

    Another question – how sensitive are the laws when it comes to trademarks in terms of likeness? i.e. if Nike registered Jordan’s airwalk with black and red, could another use black and white?

  5. Retro Jordan says:

    November 2nd, 2007 at 10:01 am

    I wonder how much money Jordan has made from his shoe line? Probably in the billions!

  6. Rich says:

    November 2nd, 2007 at 11:01 pm


    I am sure MJ was paid fairly for his time. Not sure he is a billionaire (I think tiger is the first who will reach that), but I would say he is safe from the recent mortgage fallout.