The NCAA, Trademarks, and Your Business


The NCAA has trademarked over 70 slogans, should your business have at least one trademark?
If you were to take a look at my undergraduate and law school transcripts, you’d notice one fairly obvious pattern – my grades were always better during Fall Semester than Spring Semester.  Why?  Well, I’m glad you asked!
I think the downturn always began during the first weekend of the NCAA Basketball Tournament (you might call it The Big Dance).  I’ve been filling out brackets since before filling out brackets was cool, and during that opening weekend of the tournament, I didn’t stray much from the TV – including to attend classes – from the opening tip of the first game on Thursday morning, until the Sweet 16 was set on Sunday night.  During March, I pretty much traveled the Road to the Final Four to the exclusion of everything else – all the way from Selection Sunday, through the Elite 8, and finally to the promised land of the Final Four.  I guess you could call my mania March Madness or March Mayhem, but whatever you want to call it, it was real, and my academic pursuits tended to suffer.
Would it surprise you to know that the preceding paragraph contains nine (yes, nine!) trademarks registered to the National Collegiate Athletics Association (“NCAA”), and that this sentence contains two more?!  The NCAA owns registered trademarks for approximately 70 slogans or phrases, not to mention a ton of logos that I didn’t even bother to count.  My personal favorites are “Pinnacle of Fitness” (???) and “It’s More Than Three Games” (Um … No … If you’re talking about the Final Four, then it really is just three games).
Anyway, the NCAA has taken the time, effort and expense to register these 70 or so terms as trademarks in order to corner the market on their use for the services/products they provide (generally athletic competitions and the broadcasts thereof). Other organizations are therefore precluded from putting on a sports tournament in March and calling it “March Madness” and/or calling their semifinals and finals the “Final Four.”  This trademark protection greatly enhances the NCAA’s brand, and the NCAA’s portfolio of intellectual property is surely valued in the tens of millions.
However, trademarks aren’t just for giant organizations and corporations.  They are relatively inexpensive to obtain, and can prove invaluable to the long-term growth of your business.  So, when should you think about registering a trademark?

  • You are using a particular name, logo, and/or slogan to market your goods and/or services, and you believe that name/logo/slogan is key to the success of your business. Building a brand is useless if a competitor can take that brand and use it to their advantage.  Registering a trademark is a huge step in protecting the brand you have worked so hard to build.
  • You are offering your goods or services on the internet, or beyond the borders of your local market. Common law trademark rights are limited in geographic scope.  When you register a trademark, you are protected nationwide.  A U.S. trademark registration can also be used to unlock the door to obtaining a trademark in most other countries.
  • You are concerned about a competitor (current or future) coming in and using your name and/or logo in your local market. Registering your trademark can be a powerful deterrent to potential competition.
  • You haven’t quite started offering your goods or services yet, but your name and/or logo is so good, you’re afraid someone you have shown it to (or maybe someone else) might beat you to the punch. In the U.S., the first person/entity to use a trademark in commerce has the rights to that trademark.  However, before you actually use the trademark, you can file an “Intent to Use” trademark application that will give you roughly 12 months (including extensions) to use the mark in commerce.  If you can show the USPTO such a use within that time, your priority date for using the mark will be the date you filed your “Intent to Use” application. You will therefore be able to claim priority over anyone who began to use the mark in the interim.

A trademark registration can be a powerful tool to grow and maintain the health of your business.  Please feel free to contact me if you’d like to discuss what makes sense in your individual situation.