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NCAA not mad about trademark infringement

by Diane Larson

“Ask me to play. I’ll play. Ask me to shoot. I’ll shoot. Ask me to pass. I’ll pass. Ask me to steal, block out, sacrifice, lead, dominate. ANYTHING. But it’s not just what you ask of me. It’s what I ask of myself.” Lebron James


They say that baseball is as American as apple pie. If that is the case then it could be said that basketball is as American as Boston Baked Beans.  


The sport of basketball was an invention of a physical education instructor as a less injury-prone sport than football. In 1891, in Springfield, Massachusetts, Dr. James Naismith created the game of Basketball, also as a way to condition young athletes during the cold months.


The game quickly grew in popularity, first in America then spread throughout the world. Once basketball became established in American colleges, the professional game followed.


The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was founded on March 31, 1906.  According to their website, “The National Collegiate Athletic Association is a member-led organization dedicated to the well-being and lifelong success of college athletes.” The NCAA is also an organization that is dedicated to protecting its name and trademark, “March Madness.”


As March approaches not only college basketball teams and players are getting ready for the madness that will ensue, but the “NCAA goes into a full court press,” says, to keep any business from using their trademark “March Madness.”


The NCAA started using the mark in 1982 then licensed it in 1988. It was in 1993 that the NCAA began increasing its efforts to prevent anyone else using the term “March Madness” especially in or around the tournament season. In 2000 they obtained ownership interest in the “March Madness” trademark.


The NCAA, according to, “fiercely protects”it's registered trademark “March Madness” which they use to describe their basketball tournament. Over 85% of the NCAA’s yearly budget comes from that three-week period.


So, the NCAA owns the term “March Madness.” “Using the name March Madness® on apparel, such as a shirt, hat, or other products without permission could be considered a counterfeit under the law,” says A company that wants to use the trademark has to seek a license from the NCAA if they want to print March Madness® on any apparel. If not, they risk liability for trademark infringement and/or counterfeiting.


Bars or restaurants that may want to use the March Madness® trademark, without seeking license from NCAA, in their seasonal advertising can be liable for trademark infringement.


It is worth mentioning that the NCAA will go “as far as necessary” says to defend its trademark, even file suit against members in its own association. In 2017 the NCAA filed a notice of opposition against the Big Ten Conference and its registration of the mark MARCH IS ON!


Is the NCAA going to extremes protecting its trademark? Good question. An article about trademarks on Gerben Law Firm PLLC says that “the NCAA is acting like any other trademark owner would (and should) to protect its trademark.” They go on to explain that these actions are a way of protecting the integrity of the organization that is represented by the trademark. What would you put your name to?


Gerben Law Firm PLLC says that “The bottom line is that any business owner (or individual) who uses the March Madness trademark in an authorized manner should be prepared to face an organization that knows a lot about offense when it comes to trademark protection.” It’s what you ask of yourself, and where you put your name.



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