Random Writer Thoughts

Spring: The Season. Not an NCAA trademark. Yet.

Ah, Spring. Birds, a greening lawn and plenty of trademark confusion.

Having worked for a number of clients who wanted to run promotions centered around the NFL’s “big game” in February and the college basketball tournaments in March, it’s always been a — oh heck, let’s call it a “big dance” — around trademarked terms for those clients who don’t have rights to use those terms. (And much too easy for those that have “earned” the right to use those trademarked terms.)

Sure, “Super Bowl” and “Final Four” are trademarks. It wouldn’t get past legal at most places, but I usually see at least one of these sneak into at least one local ad of some sort where they don’t belong almost every year.

The Super Bowl is one thing, but what chaps my hide sometimes is that all of the fun March terms are also trademarked. The NCAA and its cohorts are all about generating as much revenue as possible off of every fun phrase you can think of.

If you’re a professional writer reading this, you’re already well aware. If you’re not, well, try to steer clear of reusing anything you see or hear on CBS in any form. March Madness, the Big Dance, you name it — they’re trademarks of the NCAA. Well-protected trademarks.

Interested in some background on the cases surrounding some of this stuff? I was. Ever since I learned that Dumpster was a trademark for a mobile garbage collection bin, I started paying closer attention to these things. (Believe it or not, that’s one of the most memorable nuggets of knowledge I took away from J-School). I still shed a tear when I see a cub reporter use the lowercase form of the word.

Learn the history of the Dumpster (Yes, it still garners capitalization per the AP, but you’ll likely won’t suffer the wrath of the legal gods for using or misusing it.)

In 2003, the trademark “March Madness” survived a genericness challenge. (Interesting history on that one — it was in use back in 1939, before the formation of the NCAA.)  “The Big Dance” — don’t even think about it.

Here’s a list of all currently trademarked NCAA terms. Here’s a link to the NCAA trademark protection program page. (As of this posting, the link is to a page on their site with the file name “ambush.html” — and you can probably expect to feel ambushed should you misuse one of their trademarks.)

This March, protect your assets and don’t use any of the NCAA’s trademarked terms unless you or your client has the proper clearance!

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