And so it is March. Flowers will bloom, trees will bud, and collegiate titans will clash in the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. Perhaps you have heard of March Madness. If you have not, then this tidbit might not be for you. If you have, then you know that March Madness is the moniker used by and registered, in various forms, to the NCAA for college basketball tournaments, trinkets, soft drinks, basketballs, etc.
     If you work, you likely have been invited to fill out an NCAA tournament bracket for a chance to win… something. The odds of picking a perfect bracket are staggering. For someone who randomly picks winners, the chance of picking a perfect bracket is about 1 in 9.2 quintillion to score a perfect bracket. Someone who knows more than I do about college basketball might get the odds down to about 1 in 100 billion.

     The NCAA aggressively enforces March Madness trademark rights. Think Super Bowl. Think Olympics. Think Big Money. Many that have tried to cash in on the cache of the tournament have drawn the wrath of the NCAA. However, the wrath of the NCAA has not been reserved for blatant rip-offs. In fact, some enforcement efforts are truly puzzling. Tip of the hat to Jason Gay, sports editor of the Wall Street Journal, for exposing two rather perplexing, even troubling, enforcement decisions.

     Let’s start with an NCAA statement from two weeks back. “Like all organizations, the NCAA must protect its trademark interests or [it] risks losing them. The NCAA is working collaboratively with the Big Ten Conference and USA Gymnastics to find a solution that affords each organization the ability to carry out its activities in a manner that does not have an adverse effect on NCAA members.” Huh? A solution to what?

The Big Ten applied to register “March is On!” for sports entertainment services. The application was examined in the Patent and Trademark Office, approved, and published for opposition. Three weeks ago, the NCAA filed a notice of opposition and the matter went to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. Basically, the NCAA has taken the position that March is On so resembles March Madness that people are likely to be confused. I admit to being confused. At the request of the parties, the Opposition proceeding was suspended this week pending settlement negotiations.

     Last year, USA Gymnastics applied to register “Final Five” for sports entertainment services. The application was examined in the Patent and Trademark Office, approved, and published for opposition. In January, the NCAA requested and received a ninety day extension of the deadline to file a notice of opposition. One might presume that the NCAA believes that Final Five so resembles the NCAA’s “Final Four” that people are likely to be confused. I admit to being confused about this one too.

What gives? March Madness and Final Four are strong marks that immediately bring to my mind the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. Neither March is On, nor Final Five, bring to my mind the NCAA basketball tournaments. Maybe it’s time for the NCAA to lighten up a bit.

Maybe it’s time for the NCAA to come up with a new trademark to replace March Madness. This year, the men’s Final Four semi-final games will be played on April 1 and the championship game will be played on April 3. Madness!

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