Trademark Infringement – Madness in Your Local Bar?
rademark issues truly are everywhere – maybe even at your local bar. The past weeks have been filled with college basketball, as fans of the sport frantically made brackets, rushed to watch the games at lunchtime, and rode the highs and lows of the upsets as the games progressed. What you probably didn’t notice, however, is that most bars, restaurants, and even the stores you shop at don’t actually display the words “March Madness®.” That’s because the phrase is a registered trademark, a brand of the NCAA. But, when unauthorized entities use the mark, what happens?
Douglas Masters is a Chicago lawyer who deals with these issues for the NCAA. Masters first became affiliated with the NCAA in 2000, when he helped them settle a similar trademark disagreement with the Illinois High School Association and Intersport. The NCAA kept Masters on, and his role now to is to enforce the trademark. So from the time the tournament begins to it’s end in April, Masters sends out hundreds of cease and desist letters to those violating the mark.
Some entities using March Madness® to advertise are doing so innocently. They may not know that the phrase is trademarked and/or by displaying it, they are infringing. There are others, however, who see the high value of the mark and appear to be using the phrase as a way to profit and hope not to get caught. The NCAA does license the mark to others for use, but due to its high value, the cost is likely high as well, so not everyone could afford to license the mark.
Masters has stated that the two busiest times were the beginning of the tournament and before the Final Four games begin. So while we are all enjoying these final games this weekend with our friends, Masters will likely be busy drafting cease and desist letters to protect the tournament—hopefully his bracket will still be intact.