NBA Star Yao Ming Sues Chinese Sportswear Company for Infringmenent

18 Jun

Chinese born Yao Ming, who plays for the Houston Rockets has launched a legal battle against a sportswear company in central China. Ming is suing the company for $1.5 million for using his name and signature without permission, Chinese media reported Friday.

Yao Ming is suing Wuhan Yunhe Sharks Sportswear Co. for putting his name on its products, including this shoe pictured above.

The Wuhan Intermediate Court heard the case against the Wuhan Yunhe Shark sportswear company on Wednesday.

The 30-year-old Houston Rockets center did not appear in the courtroom where his lawyers argued the company’s “Yao Ming Generation” label and associated advertising campaigns misled consumers, the report said.

They also argued the company had damaged Yao’s personal brand, which they valued at more than $1 billion. The $1.5 million in damages sought were based on how much Yao earned from similar authorised campaigns, it added.

Yao’s status as China’s most popular athlete and a star with global appeal has led to endorsement deals with Nike, Pepsi, McDonald’s and China Telecom. A lawyer for the sportswear company argued the name “Yao Ming Generation” did not refer to the NBA star alone but an entire generation of Chinese people.

 The company’s website features a basketball player, but does not show Yao’s face.

Yao’s Chinese agent, Lu Hao, announced that the Houston Rockets center was suing Wuhan Yunhe Sharks Sportswear Co. for illegally using Yao’s name and image to sell athletic apparel to consumers.

Lu read this statement at a press conference last Friday (via Xinhua):

Without the permission of Yao Ming, Wuhan Yunhe Sharks Sportswear Co. illegally used Yao Ming’s signature and “Yao Ming Generation” as a business logo in their production clothing line, shoes and other apparel, and sold them in nationwide specialty stores.  They also used Yao Ming’s portrait in an advertising campaign. Through websites and other media, the company launched false propaganda which mislead consumers into believing the company had a business relationship with Yao. These acts not only damaged Yao’s name and portrait, they also worked against the interests of consumers.

This is not the first time Yao has had to deal with legal issues over the use of his name.  In 2003, Yao sued Coca-Cola for one yuan (at the time around 12 cents) for improperly using his image on Coca-Cola products and promotional materials, a case which he won.  At the time, Yao was signed with PepsiCo.  In 2008, he signed with Coca-Cola for the Beijing Olympics.

In 2001, when Yao was still playing in the Chinese Basketball Association for the Shanghai Sharks, a company attempted to register the same “Yao Ming Generation” trademark, but the move was blocked once Yao and his lawyers found out.  According to the Xinhua article, similar situations occur once every two to three months, but are rarely serious cases because the companies are small.

According to niubball.com, the Chinese government has steadfastly maintained that they are increasing measures to enforce intellectual property rights, and that progress is being made.  Last Thursday, China’s mot popular search engine, Baidu, was ordered to pay just over $75,000 to Shanda Literature, an original content provider website, for illegally infringing upon the company’s copyrights.  Baidu, which can be used to access and download an almost unlimited amount of music, video, literature and movies at no cost, has received the brunt of critics’ ire and the case is being viewed as a landmark in the battle against intellectual property rights infringement, according to the website.

The court did not say when it would issue a verdict in the current case.

 

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