Yao standing tall to defend name rights
By Zhang Zhao (China Daily)
Updated: 2012-04-25

"My name is a symbol of all the painstaking efforts I have made and all the injuries I have suffered over all these years," retired NBA superstar Yao Ming recently told China's Xinhua News Agency.

"I think it deserves some respect."

His comments came after he prevailed in a lawsuit over use of his name, then rejected the settlement as too low.

Yao said sport stars like Michael Jordan and himself should protect the rights to their names, preventing them from being used as trademarks by companies that are "purposely misleading consumers".

"It is also for protection of consumer rights," Yao said.

A court in Wuhan, Hubei province ruled at the end of last year that a sporting goods maker in the city violated Yao's rights by using a trademark named Yao Ming Era without authorization from the former NBA player.

The court ruled the company must pay 300,000 yuan ($47,580) in compensation to Yao, a sum he said is "too small to be punishment".

He said consumers "have trusted my name. So using my name as an unauthorized trademark is obviously misleading them".

Yao and his management team first noticed companies using Yao Ming as trademarks as far back as 10 years ago when he started his NBA career.

"We at first tried to persuade them not to use my name any more, but later we found that negotiation was no use," Yao said. "So we decided to take legal action."

After that, some of them came calling, asking for Yao's cooperation in business deals, but his team refused.

"It's like someone just took your things, then said 'let's use them together and share the benefits' - that is ridiculous," Yao said.

Some critics said that it was Yao who was unfair to the Wuhan company because he asked for only 1 yuan in compensation from Coca-Cola in a 2003 lawsuit. The multinational giant admitted it illegally used Yao's image on softdrink cans.

Yao responded that "for internationally famous brands, it is reputation that they care about most, but for small companies like Yao Ming Era, money is the greatest cost".

"When we are protecting our rights, we will let them feel the great cost," he said.

NBA legend Michael Jordan also has a legal dispute with a Chinese sportswear company that used his name's Chinese translation as trademark.

"The case reminds us that a company must have its own innovation capacity," Yao said. "After long efforts by a number of Chinese companies, today we already have many well-recognized home-developed brands."

Yao added that even though he has no current plans to develop a sporting goods brand using his own name, "that does not mean I'm not going to protect my own rights".


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