March 17, 2015

Madness in March?

by Guest Blogger

It is that time of year in basketball country (I am in Kentucky) when NCAA tournament brackets abound.

What materials can you include in your office brackets without running afoul of the NCAA's trademark rights? According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) web site, not much:

Federal regulations support the NCAA's efforts to prohibit the unauthorized use of the NCAA's name and trademarks (including the Final Four and March Madness) or any use of NCAA championship tickets in sweepstakes, promotions or contests, or any other unfair attempt to associate with or exploit the goodwill of any NCAA championship event. This includes a prohibition against the display of any commercial identification within an NCAA championship bracket.

The NCAA takes the position, as it must, that any use of its intellectual property violates its rights under federal trademark law. This includes use of the marks MARCH MADNESS, FINAL FOUR or even NCAA.

Hoops lovers do not despair. Use of a basic physical bracket structure that includes team names cannot infringe a trademark owner's rights. This is because the idea of a championship bracket is only a concept that is not protected by trademark, copyright, or patent law. And because use of individual school names (but not necessarily school colors, school logos or school mascots) fall within an exception to trademark infringement law referred to as "nominative faire use," it is fine to include school names in your bracket structure.

What this fair use exception means to you is that any use of a mark "other than as a trademark" is okay. Put more technically, use of a trademark to identify a third-party without suggesting affiliation with or endorsement by that third-party is merely informational and does not qualify as unfair competition.

So when creating your brackets, feel free to include team names on a bracket structure and make up your own name for the contest. Or you call David at the NCAA and request permission ( lawyers at Trademarkology provide trademark registration services backed by the experience and service of one of the nation's oldest law firms. Contact our Intellectual Property & Technology lawers.