This time of year it is common to see the term “March Madness” thrown around, whether it is in relation to just about any sport, a sale by a national chain, or just about every other usage, including New Englanders that are fed up with snow and ready for spring.  The problem is, “March Madness” is a federally registered trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and is legally owned by the NCAA.

Don’t believe me?  You can read their registration here.

This means that “March Madness” is protected by federal law, and any unauthorized usage is infringement.  And the NCAA has been tracking down unauthorized users of their trademark.  You may think, it’s just our local elementary school basketball team that’s using it.  What’s the harm?  But a trademark owner has a duty to monitor and enforce her rights in her mark.  Otherwise she will lose her rights, and the mark will go into the public domain.  Companies spend a lot of time and money “branding” their company.  This is the purpose behind trademark law–that a particular mark is tied to a source of goods or service, and often the quality of the goods or services.  If the general public starts using that mark for other purposes, it loses the ability to be an indicator of a source or goods or services.  Xerox had that fight when the public started using the name as synonymous with a photocopy, instead of a brand of photocopiers.  And Google is having the same struggle now with the public using the term “google” for any internet search.

So the next time you want to use “March Madness”, you may want to think twice.  You do not want to go to the effort and expense of creating advertising or other materials, only to be told to “cease and desist”.