Now that a certain annual collegiate sports tournament is underway, a certain national collegiate athletic association would like to remind you (yes, you) that, no matter how mad you are this month, you may not describe said madness as MARCH MADNESS® without proper permission. As the NCAA’s website helpfully explains, the association owns a lengthy list of registered and pending trademarks for the phrases MARCH MADNESS®, NCAA SWEET SIXTEEN®, ELITE EIGHT®, FINAL FOUR®, and dozens of others, for a variety of different products and services (e.g., athletic gear, clothing, conducting annual basketball tournaments at the college level, etc.). The administration, use, and licensing of this trademark portfolio is managed by the NCAA Trademark Protection Program, and the association’s marks are “carefully controlled and aggressively protected to be consistent with the purposes and objectives of the NCAA, its member institutions and conferences and higher education.” Because the NCAA’s championships “are the subject of great public and media interest… [t]he The NCAA must be vigilant against the unauthorized use of its trademarks, tickets and references to its championships,” and “requests your [yes, your] cooperation in this regard.”
Under ordinary circumstances, a trademark owner’s rights are basically limited to the products and/or services with which the mark is used or registered. However, owners of sufficiently famous marks may also have the right to prevent others from using their marks in connection with products and/or services that are outside the nominal scope of the owner’s use or registration, under the law of trademark dilution (this is how the NCAA can assert rights over mere “references to its championships”—such references by unauthorized parties can suggest a false sponsorship by or affiliation with the NCAA). Since few things gives rise to actual March madness like receiving a cease and desist letter from the NCAA’s lawyers, it may be worth considering whether that feeling you’re trying to evoke is really more like February Frenzy, or April Absurdity, or even May Hem. See the madness here.