Less than a week ago, the National Collegiate Athletic Association filed a trademark infringement action in federal court against a company that runs an online sports-themed promotions and contests under the marks “April Madness” and “Final 3.” The NCAA is seeking injunctive relief, damages, the defendant’s profits, punitive damages and an award of attorneys’ fees. Last year, I wrote about the risks of publishing ads or engaging in promotional activities that “play off” the NCAA Collegiate Basketball Playoffs. Clearly, such activities continue to carry great risks. Accordingly, I am republishing last year’s blog post on this subject: It’s March Madness! Know the NCAA’s Rulebook or Risk A Foul Call Against the Unauthorized Use of Its Trademarks With the NCAA Basketball Tournament about to begin, broadcasters, publishers and other businesses need to be wary about potential claims arising from their use terms and logos associated with the tournament, including March Madness , ® The Big Dance , ® Final Four ® or Elite Eight , ® each of which is a federally registered trademark. The NCAA Aggressively Polices the Use of its Trademarks It has been estimated that, last year, the NCAA earned $900 million in revenue associated with the NCAA Basketball tournament. Moreover, its returns from the tournament have historically grown each year. Most of this income comes from broadcast licensing fees. It also has a substantial amount of revenue from licensing March Madness ® and its other marks for use by advertisers. As part of those licenses, the NCAA agrees to stop non-authorized parties from using any of the marks. Indeed, if the NCAA did not actively police the use of its marks by unauthorized companies, advertisers might not feel the need to get a license or, at least, to pay as much as they do for the license. Thus, the NCAA has a strong incentive to put on a full court press to prevent non-licensees from associating their goods and services with the NCAA tournament through unauthorized use of its trademarks.
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It’s March Madness! … It’s April Madness! … Be Wary of Using the NCAA’s Trademarks