Uncle Martian knocks off Under Armour

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From William Lou, "Obvious Chinese knockoff ruled trademark infringement of Under Armour ", theScore (8/4/17):

The Chinese brand name is Ānkě Mǎtīng 安可玛汀.

The meanings of the characters are irrelevant, since they are only being used to transcribe the sounds of the English name, Uncle Martian, which is therefore primary in the mind of the person who devised it.  The fact that "Uncle Martian" is written above and in a much larger font also shows that it is considered to be more important than the Chinese equivalent.

[h.t. Victor Steinbok]


  1. Michael Watts said,

    August 5, 2017 @ 4:19 pm

    How do these "transcriptions" get chosen? Under what model is mating a better transcription of the english word "Martian" than mashen?

  2. The Other Mark P said,

    August 5, 2017 @ 5:56 pm

    I believe that a "knock-off" is when you make something to be labelled in the original label, usually of inferior quality. A counterfeit.

    I believe what we have here is "passing off", where you make something in a different trademark, but which attempts to trick the consumer.

  3. Francis Boyle said,

    August 6, 2017 @ 3:28 am

    To my mind it's the other way round. I understand "knock-off" to be a cheap imitation which usually doesn't attempt to to fool the buyer that it's the real thing, though there may be a suggestion that the buyer will be able to fool others. Think "Sex The City Perfume" or indeed all those other cheap perfume marketed as "if you like X, you'll love this". (I'm not particularly interested in perfumes – it's just that I spend a lot of time in pharmacies waiting for prescriptions to be filled and like to use it doing "sociological research")

    Since "passing off" is a legal term I will leave the details to those better versed in the intricacies of the law than me and just note that it does have a central sense of deception.

    Finally, I'm a speaker of Australian English. I mention that because "knock-off" feels to me like an Australianism. I wouldn't be surprised, though, to find I'm wrong. I've been surprised in that respect more than once.

  4. Drusilda said,

    August 6, 2017 @ 4:21 am

    @Michael Watts: Maybe they were trying to hint at Uncle Martin the Martian.

  5. flow said,

    August 6, 2017 @ 6:25 am

    The choice of characters is truly puzzling to me. None of the characters 安, 可, 玛, 汀 except maybe 玛 (as in 瑪瑙, 馬腦 mǎnǎo 'agate') strike me as especially 'fit for branding'.

    安可 may be a commonly known (?) transcription for 'uncle', but it also is evocative of that old chestnut, (塞翁失馬)安知非福 where it is the 'how' of '(the old border man lost a horse), how can one know it's not luck'; when I don't suppress that association, 安可玛汀 looks a lot like a (non-sensical) 'how can one mǎtīng', even more so with that horse component.

    汀 is not a terribly frequent character; I wonder how many people would instinctively read it as ding instead of ting, especially so as 馬丁 is the standard rendition of 'Martin'. (Acc. to baike.com, 玛汀 appears in the brand name 玛汀露丝 for Matin Rosie Inc., a French maker of cosmetics, so maybe there's a connection? But that would be at odds with the 'Martian' part of the English name.)

    Speaking of which, whoever came up with the formula "玛汀 = martian" without offering a hint as to why that equation is meaningful, witty, historically founded, self-suggesting or at least 'obvious as soon as you get it' did just create another blip in the background noise of commercial chatter. All of "安可玛汀 = Uncle Matin" (pronounced the French way), "安可玛汀 = Uncle Martin", "安可马丁 = Uncle Martin" offer more coherence in the naming associations, as do, say, "安可瑪珊 = Uncle Martian" (瑪珊: 'agate and coral') or maybe (as suggested above) "安可瑪紳 = Uncle Martian", "安可馬申 = Uncle Martian". (One could even think of 瑪參 for Martian, as 參 is an old name for Orion; Wikipedia: "古代中国では、オリオン座は28の占星術の宿(二十八宿)のうちの1つで参(參 、しん、拼音: Shēn)と名付けられていた") and thus, like Martian, associated with the heavens; but the character is most often read cān and the original meaning forgotten, which rules it out.)

    To top it off, not only is the name as such and the associations between its Chinese and English equivalents whacky, the logo is also (IMHO) of unimaginative and inferior design. To be sure, the Under Armor logo is executed with much more dexterity, where Uncle Martian fails with confidence (mixture of thin and broad lines; the upper and lower parts of the ∪ and the ∩ are just microns apart compared to the width of the strokes, this is visually jarring and will fail the brand owners whenever the logo gets rendered in less-than-perfect circumstances; tacky addition of a wreath presumably copied from somewhere else plus a token 'Yes, China!' star).

    My guess is that the center piece of the logo itself *could* have survived the the trial at the Fujian higher court, had it not been for the blatant rip-off of *both* the colors (white on red; they could've chosen yellow on red at the least) *and* the typeface (this one is called Eurostyle, and you can Just Use it because everybody does; it's a good design, not really overused).

    To use the font along with *all* the other hallmarks of your direct competitor's appearance is just stupid. You might as well open a furniture company and call it YKEA (on blue and yellow).

  6. Brett said,

    August 6, 2017 @ 9:09 am

    @Francis Boyle: The term "knock-off" is commonplace in American English. If you perceive it to be characteristically Australian, that might mean that it is not common in other varieties of Commonwealth English (or maybe not).

  7. Linda said,

    August 6, 2017 @ 11:32 am

    The OED has this for "knock off"
    4. A copy or reproduction of a design, e.g. of a textile, china, etc. U.S.

    1966 N.Y. Times 25 Jan. 44 Copying designs to sell for less has a name in the industry. It is called the ‘knockoff’.
    1970 Washington Post 30 Sept. B. 14/1 People who appreciate genuine pate de foie gras..might like to serve it on a decently designed plate, and not on a knock off..of 18th Century English china.
    1971 Time 25 Jan. 38 [Coco] Chanel had long since refused to join the cabal of Paris designers who tried to prevent style piracy… Private customers paid $700 for the original; buyers, intent on knockoffs, paid close to $1,500.

    And this for "pass off"
    a. trans. To put into circulation, promote, or market, esp. deceptively; to present or sell (someone else's work or property) as one's own. With for or (now more usually) as. Cf. passing off n. at passing n. Phrases 2b.

    1681 A. Behn 2nd Pt. Rover ii. Prol. Poets, like States-men, with a little change, Pass off old Politicks for new and strange.
    1739 T. C. Pagett Dialogue in Hudibrasticks 7 The modish Ware so quickly sold, One would have sworn 'twas made of Gold: Sure it must be more Luck than Sleight, To pass off Pinchbeck Ore for right.
    1799 H. More Strict. Mod. Syst. Fem. Educ. (ed. 4) I. 297 They might be tempted to pass off for their own what they pick up from others.
    1845 C. Beavan Rep. Cases in Chancery VI. 66 A party will not, therefore, be allowed to use names, marks, letters, or other indiciæ by which he may pass off his own goods to purchasers as the manufacture of another person.
    1884 Law Times Rep. 51 222/2 The applicants..pass off their goods for those of the Baron de Geer.
    1910 Encycl. Brit. I. 233/1 Wines from the Palatinate which under their own names would not sell out of Germany are often passed off as hocks.
    1972 T. A. White & R. Jacob Kerly's Law of Trade Marks (ed. 10) xvi. 362 The question whether the use of particular words or badges is calculated to pass off the defendant's goods as those of the plaintiff is often one of difficulty.
    1990 A. Kernan Death of Lit. vii. 170 Image makers pass off mediocrity for genius.

  8. B.Ma said,

    August 6, 2017 @ 12:09 pm


    I thought it was supposed to be 塞翁失馬 知非福, but apparently 安 does also mean 'how'. Though as a mainly Cantonese speaker I wouldn't have "mistaken" 安 for 焉.

    I have heard several Chinese people pronounce "martian" as marty-ann.

  9. flow said,

    August 6, 2017 @ 12:25 pm

    @B.Ma—I've not seen "塞翁失馬焉知非福" (119.000 ghits) before, I only know "塞翁失馬安知非福" (48.500 ghits). Looks like they taught us a minority opinion back when.

  10. Neil Dolinger said,

    August 6, 2017 @ 2:34 pm

    I wonder if the guy in the picture had been planning to to grow his empire by incorporating his likeness into his logo, like these folks did:


    If he was, here's an idea for his logo


  11. Victor Mair said,

    August 6, 2017 @ 3:04 pm

    @Neil Dolinger:

    1. LOL!

    2. ROTFL!

    Thanks for both!

  12. shubert said,

    August 6, 2017 @ 9:46 pm

    The design of U-M has a bit of its own trick.

  13. Francois Lang said,

    August 7, 2017 @ 1:14 pm

    A bit off topic, perhaps, but the first thing I thought of when I saw "Uncle Martian" was the 1960s sitcom "My Favorite Martian", in which Ray Walston was a Martian known as "Uncle Martin". Memories…

  14. Keith said,

    August 7, 2017 @ 4:16 pm

    1. Knock-off is also perfectly well understood in British English.
    2. The Under Armor logo mixes thick and thin lines, but the upper and lower letters overlap and have no surrounding laurel wreath.

  15. Keith said,

    August 7, 2017 @ 4:20 pm

    Oops… Using a new browser on my cellphone… I intend to paste a URL.

    I'll try it again.


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