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Jeremy Lin trademark dispute looming

posted 20 Mar 2012, 05:46 by Mpelembe   [ updated 20 Mar 2012, 05:46 ]

A sports equipment manufacturer in China sparks a trademark dispute involving NBA basketball star Jeremy Lin.

The New York Knicks may have given Jeremy Lin his break in basketball's NBA, but a sports ball maker in eastern China saw potential in the Harvard-educated Chinese-American more than a year and a half ago - and quietly registered his trademark for just $700.
The issue is the latest in a series of China trademark troubles for Western sports stars and companies that have ensnared American icons ranging from basketball star Michael Jordan to Apple's iPad in recent disputes.

Registering is cheap and relatively easy, and since Chinese law favours those who register trademarks first, squabbles over them can prove thorny to unravel.

Lin, 23, the son of Taiwanese immigrants who had been cut by two National Basketball Association teams before getting his chance with the Knicks, rocketed from obscurity to worldwide celebrity this season, coming off the bench to spark a team that had been forced to play without its top players.

But before Lin got hot, in July 2010, Wuxi Risheng Sports Utility Co, which makes about one million basketballs, volleyballs and soccer balls a year, registered his name as a trademark.

The company applied to trademark a variation of Lin's name, "Lin Shuhao (in Chinese characters) Jeremy S.H.L. (initials of Lin's Chinese name)," according to the website of the trademark office of China's State Administration of Industry and Commerce.

The application was approved in August, with the company paying just 4,460 yuan ($710 USD) for the rights and creating a headache for Lin and his corporate partner Nike, with which he signed a three-year contract in 2010.

Risheng's president and avid basketball fan Yu Minjie (pron: yoo ming-jeeih) said Lin caught her eye when she saw him playing college basketball for Harvard on the Internet.

"When I discovered Jeremy Lin, he was still studying in Harvard," Yu told Reuters in an interview.

"At that time, he was representing Harvard during a basketball game.

"Back then, I found that he was a very clever and speedy player. But the main thing was that he kept making eye contact with his coach, so I felt he was quite a clever person. So he attracted my attention immediately.

"Also, I have a fond liking for overseas Chinese."

Risheng will start selling basketballs wholesale under the "Lin Shuhao Jeremy S.H.L." trademark across China in March.

They have also made and marketed volleyballs and soccer balls with the trademark.

Yu said she would have still marketed the basketballs with the Jeremy Lin trademark even if he had not become famous.

"I wanted to use his trademark to make basketballs. Even if he was not popular, I would have still have launched his products.

"Every year we are launching new products. So since his trademark was approved last year, we were planning to launch his products this year.

"Now that he is suddenly so famous, we have to make the products better and of superior quality," she said.

China's relatively relaxed trademark policies could prove costly for Lin, whose $800,000 salary this season is modest by NBA standards.

Forbes SportsMoney said on its online edition that he is worth $15 million.

Horace Lam, a Beijing-based intellectual property partner of global law firm Jones Day, believed it would be hard for Lin or Nike to take the trademark from Risheng.

"I think the reality is this company has already successfully registered the trademark in China for amongst other things, sporting equipments including basketballs and football and basketball jerseys etc," he said.

"So they have the legal right to use that trademark in China. I am sure that they are taking into account a lot of considerations when they are going to roll out the products etc.

"But they do have that legal entitlement to use that trademark in China."

Nike Inc has launched Jeremy Lin-themed shoes on its website and its "Linsanity" line of clothes at Foot Locker Inc stores this month, cashing in on the point guard's fame.

Lin himself is applying for a trademark in the United States to the term "Linsanity," widely used to describe his meteoric rise, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Adidas is started selling Jeremy Lin's official T-shirts in the last week of February, seeing hundreds of fans queuing for getting their hands on the first batch.

Lam added it would cost Lin or Nike a significant amount of money to buy the trademark.

"I've done many cases where companies paid a lot of money for trademarks which supposedly they own," Lam explained.

"But they didn't secure the registration for it in the beginning."

In other occasions, I've also bought for clients trademarks in a range of only a few thousand U.S dollars.

"But in this case, if that happens, it's probably more likely that we're talking about a fair amount of money considering the fame Jeremy Lin has successfully established in such short period of time."