March Madness (TM)
As they do every March, words like “Cinderella”, “bracket”, and “madness” have again begun to take on new meaning. But, just like the phrase “Super Bowl”, businesses should be wary of using the trademarked term “March Madness” or risk facing allegations of infringement.
The roots of March Madness go back to 1939, when an Illinois High School Association (IHSA) official named Henry Porter apparently coined the phrase to describe the state basketball tournament.
“A little March madness may complement and contribute to sanity and help keep society on an even keel,” [Porter] wrote.
Three years later, he punctuated his point with a poem, “Basketball Ides of March,” which included these lines: “The Madness of March is running. The winged feet fly, the ball sails high. And field goal hunters are gunning.”
In 1982, announcers began to use March Madness to describe the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s men’s basketball tournament, and in 1996 the IHSA sued to protect its trademark rights in the phrase.
As a result of the litigation, the NCAA and the Illinois association reached an agreement to create an new entity – March Madness Athletic Association, LLC – which now holds the trademark to “March Madness” and regularly takes action to enforce its mark.
The bottom line? In addition to determining how, if at all, employees should participate in the tournament, employers should be careful not to imply that they have any official connection to the NCAA contest.