Jeremy Lin's Chinese Trademark Problems

US Basketball phenom Jeremy Lin’s name seems set to become a Chinese household word before he has a chance to make it one himself.

Marketing Daily, a Hong Kong-based industry trade magazine, reported Tuesday that Lin’s name was trademarked, apparently without his knowledge, by sports manufacturer Wuxi Rishing Sports Utility, in July 2010, well before the New York Knicks point guard became famous. The sports manufacturer Nike has a three-year contract with Lin in the United States. The National Basketball League also has a contract with Adidas which allows the German-based sports manufacturer to market its players’ apparel.

On Monday, Marketing Daily reported that Adidas has already begun introducing jerseys modeled on those worn by Lin across China. Last weekend, the publication reported, Adidas launched is first batch of Linsanity T-shirts and has plans to launch another batch in March. A spokesperson at Adidas China told the publication that the shirts in its flagship store in Beijing were sold out on the very first day.

Last week, the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s biggest English-language daily, put out its morning edition with a giant poster of Lin wrapped entirely around both sides of the broadsheet newspaper.

Jens Meyer, vice president, marketing, sport performance at Adidas China, said the company will introduce more products to cater to the growing NBA fans. A spokesperson at Adidas Hong Kong revealed that the jerseys would make its way into the market later in the year, with Jeremy Lin T-shirts expected to be out next month.

The news of the appropriation of Lin’s name comes as controversy over trademark, always a hot issue with China’s copycats, has got hotter. In mid-February, Chinese authorities began to seize units of Apple’s phenomenally successful iPad tablet computer from retailers over a trademark dispute with a Shenzhen-based company, Shenzhen Proview Technology, which registered the iPad trademark in China in 2001. Apple said it had bought rights to the name from a Taiwanese company affiliated with Proview, but the mainland firm says it still owns the name in China. A Chinese court rejected Apple's claim to the name in China last year.

Proview said it had notified regulators in more than 40 cities of possible trademark violations and has threatened to ask customs officials to stop imports and exports of iPads, which are manufactured in China. Apple has appealed the ruling, citing a Hong Kong court ruling last year that concluded Proview and the company in Taiwan were both controlled by the same Taiwanese businessman, Yang Long-san.

At almost the same time basketball legend Michael Jordan filed suit against Quiodan Sports Co., a China-based manufacturer, for using his brand name without his permission. Jordan’s contract with Nike is one of the most successful sports endorsements in history. Qiaodan translates loosely as Jordan in Chinese. "It is deeply disappointing to see a company build a business off my Chinese name without my permission, use the number 23 and even attempt to use the names of my children. I am taking this action to preserve ownership of my name and my brand," Jordan said in a statement.

Jordan, Apple and Lin are hardly alone. Dozens of companies have had similar problems in China when courts find in favor of Chinese companies. Earlier this week, it was reported that the French luxury goods maker Hermes discovered it had lost out to Guangdong-based Dafeng Garment Factory before China’s Trademark Appeals Board. Although Hermes had registered its trademark as far back as 1977 in China, it apparently failed to do the same thing with its Simplified Chinese trademark.

Although Hermes appealed to the trademark board in 1997, Dafeng won the right to use the Hermese name in the pinyin version of the Chinese language. It formally registered the name in 2001. Hermes appealed vainly in 2009, saying its fame as a high-end brand across the globe should mean it had a right to the name. The court ruled that Hermes is not a well-known brand in China, and that it cannot be proven that Dafeng obtained the trademark by deceptive means.