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Paul Zimmerman
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Promoters and Advertisers Beware: “March Madness” is a Trademarked Term

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is underway. As millions of Americans scramble to fill out their brackets and take strategically timed lunch breaks, it is critical that advertisers capitalizing on the frenzy proceed with caution. Just like the “Super Bowl,” “March Madness” is a trademarked term. March Madness Athletic Association, a company partially owned by the NCAA, owns the trademark. And the NCAA aggressively polices the unauthorized use of this trademarked term for promotional purposes.

Many have argued that the use of terms like “March Madness” is fair use. But courts have, for the most part, rejected this contention. Nominative fair use enables sportscasters and commentators to refer to March Madness in reporting on the tournament, but businesses promoting NCAA tournament-related events, opportunities and deals run the risk of trademark infringement. Similarly, the NCAA has claimed trademark rights for such terms as: Elite Eight, NCAA Sweet Sixteen, March Mayhem and The Big Dance. Use of these terms, for example, to promote an event at a local restaurant, bar or sports store would invite the risk of a cease and desist letter.

There are certainly some instances, such as when a business uses the term “March Madness” in passing and clarifies that it is not affiliated with the NCAA or the tournament, that the usage would be legally permissible. However, given the nuances of trademark law, most businesses will want to avoid use of trademarked names altogether, erring on the side of caution. Before you begin selling big screen TV’s for March Madness, or hosting your community’s official March Madness viewing party at your restaurant, think twice about whether the impact of this advertising warrants the potential financial risk arising from trademark violations.

This article is not offered as, and should not be relied on as, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice in specific situations.