March Madness and Other NCAA Trademarks

By: Mark R. Malek

So the big tournament starts tonight – that’s right, we are starting with 64 teams and the team that goes through the tournament undefeated brings home the big trophy.  Half the fun is looking for that Cinderella team that upsets a few teams on the way, maybe even makes it to the Sweet 16.  This is truly March Madness! Too bad that football has yet to come up with a playoff system nearly as cool as March Madness. 

ncaa march madnessWith the above rant in mind, the above paragraph might really tick off the NCAA.  They own trademark rights on all sorts of slogans that are used during the basketball tournament. The funny thing is that different entities own different trademarks.  For example, the NCAA owns the trademarks for “NCAA Sweet 16” and the March Madness Athletic Association owns the trademarks for “March Madness.”  Every year, I hear about some enforcement action of these trademarks.  Generally the enforcement action is against some retailer that uses the mark to advertise a sale.  You have heard the commercials before – a car dealer saying that all inventory must go during their March Madness sale.

sweet 16Needless to say, the trademark owners are not fond of their trademarks being used to advertise someone else’s sale without their permission.   So what is a retailer who is having a sale in March to do?  The alternative, of course, is to think of something to promote your goods or services in a way that ties it to the event in question, but that still respects the trademark rights of others.  That is why you always see commercials around late January and early February that say something along the lines of “are you ready for the Big Game?”  Everyone knows what “Big Game” they are talking about, right?  I don’t dare say it because of fear that the NFL will work me over real good.  So after this article publishes, maybe I’ll start seeing some car dealers advertising sales with “March Craziness.”

The point here is that just because the name of the sporting event is cool, do not think that you can automatically use that name to promote your own goods or services.  If you do run into trouble with the NCAA or the March Madness Athletic Association, feel free to contact us through our website.  You can also follow me on TwitterLinkedIn and Facebook for even more information.

 

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