March 23, 2015

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Wyche Inside IP
By Wallace K. Lightsey

It is March, and the minds of many turn to college basketball and to the NCAA tournament in particular. The intense focus of the American public and TV-viewing audience on the tournament is an irresistible motivation to advertisers to incorporate “March Madness” into the names of sales and promotions. Beware, this could bring big trouble! Like “Super Bowl” and “Olympics,” the term “March Madness” is trademarked, and its owner is active in policing and protecting the mark, as sponsors pay the NCAA mega-bucks for association with the tournament. So using “March Madness” in promotions and advertisements could land you in litigation with a well-heeled and highly motivated opponent.

You may be thinking, “what exactly does it mean that ‘March Madness’ is trademarked? I hear sports reporters and morning DJ’s use this expression all time.” This is perfectly okay as long as they are not using the term for a commercial purpose or in a way that could imply some association or affiliation with the event or the NCAA. With advertisements and promotions, however, this danger area is difficult to avoid. While it might be possible to craft an ad using the phrase “March Madness” that does not suggest that the NCAA endorses or is affiliated with the seller of whatever is being promoted, someone contemplating doing this needs to ask themselves if they really want to go through the expense and hassle of paying a lawyer to analyze whether the ad is okay from a trademark perspective, or dealing with the NCAA and its attorneys if they happen to disagree? The safest route is just to avoid using the phrase in commercial announcements.

We hope you enjoy the games, and avoid entanglement with the NCAA.

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