Ruling vows better IPR protection

Overthrowing previous judgments by the National Intellectual Property Administration as well as first- and second-instance courts, the Supreme People’s Court ruled in favor of former Chicago Bulls player Michael Jordan’s request for a Chinese sportswear firm to stop using his name in its trademark. The previous rulings, by the NIPA, Beijing No 1 Intermediate People’s Court, and Beijing High People’s Court respectively, erred in both certifying facts and applying the law, according to the top court, the disputed trademark should be revoked, and the NIPA should produce a new verdict. After eight years of litigation, although this was not an overwhelming win for the NBA star, since the supreme court did not support his other demand — for the Chinese company to drop a logo featuring a silhouette of a basketball player similar to his well known “Jumpman” one — the judgment is worth celebration, not only for the six-time NBA champion himself, but also others in similar positions. And, more importantly, because it sets an important judicial precedent, which augurs jurisprudential progress toward better understanding and protection of intellectual property rights. If the past rulings on such matters left the less-than-desirable impression that this country was lax in upholding the intellectual property rights and interests of foreigners, the Supreme People’s Court’s ruling indicates that times have changed. It is being broadly read as a sign of Beijing honoring one of its key commitments under the phase-1 trade agreement with Washington — enhancing intellectual property rights protection to facilitate fair trade — but it is more than that. As China has become more closely interlinked with the rest of the world, it has been working hard to assimilate into the global rules. Offering equal intellectual property rights guarantees for both Chinese and overseas holders is an outcome of the recent progress that has been made in this direction with the improvements to its business environment to ensure a level playing field for all businesses whatever their identities, origins and ownership. Jordan is not alone in being a victim of longstanding IPR infringements. But the ruling shows the wind of change is blowing in the right direction, and hopefully other cases will be cleared soon. The Chinese Trademark Law reads a lot harsher after last year’s amendments. But like the Supreme Court ruling, it needs to be enforced faithfully with or without third-party oversight. Nonetheless, the ruling suggests that the Guideline on Strengthening Intellectual Property Rights Protection that was released in November is now being implemented, and China will as promised make comprehensive use of the law, technology and social governance policies to strengthen IPR protection. –CN