LINtellectual property issues in China

29-Feb-2012

As Jeremy Lin rose to global celebrity status in early February 2012, playing for NBA team New York Knicks, the last thing he could have imagined would be having to deal with a trade mark squatter in China.

Jeremy Lin, 23, is a Harvard University graduate and the first Taiwanese-American to play in the league.  His skills led the New York Knicks to six straight wins, translating in direct increase in TRPs, ticket sales and international interest in his game.

Whilst Jeremy was battling for a position in NBA and facing rejection from at least two NBA teams, Yu Minjie, legal representative for Wuxi Risheng Sports Utility Co, noticed his talent and registered the mark ‘Lin Shuhao (in Chinese characters) Jeremy S.H.L. (initials of Lin’s Chinese name)’ on behalf of the company in July 2010 in China.  Wuxi Risheng Sports Utility Co manufactures about one million basketballs, volleyballs and soccer balls a year.  The company plans to start selling basketballs under the mark, as early as March this year.

Yu has made no secret of the company’s willingness to sell/license the mark in a public statement, saying, “Several big companies looked me up to cooperate or buy (the trademark). I am willing to sell, but there is no ideal offer now.”

"In China, first-to-register gets the rights. You may have an idea, and you can register its trademark without ever using it.  Unlike in the US, where one must show actual use or an intention to use before one can apply for a trademark," says Horace Lam, a Beijing-based intellectual property expert at Jones Day.  Lam further adds, "Trademark hijacking issues are happening every day in China. Looking from a pure legal issue the system allows this to happen. Chinese companies are aware of this system and use it to their advantage. We see this happen every day. It's a big problem for companies and people trying to protect their intellectual property in China when they are not familiar with the Chinese system."

It remains to be seen how Nike Inc and Lin react to the situation in China.

In the meanwhile, Nike has commenced selling Lin-themed footwear and launched ‘Linsanity’ line of clothing apparel.  Jeremy has applied for a US trade mark for the term ‘Linsanity’, the term was coined to describe his rapid ascend in NBA.

For information regarding Lin's impact, please see Forbes article here.

Shriraj Takle