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When March became Madness

The SI article (http://www.cnnsi.com/2012/writers/the_bonus/03/12/1981.madness/index.html?eref=sihp&sct=hp_t12_a0) inspired me to do a little research and writing. Tim Layden writes about the networks catching 3 buzzer beater games in one day of the tourney in 1981, but March had been Madness for years - even decades, before that. I revelled in the Madness in an undefeated state championship in 1978 (78-0 for the HS in 1978. 22-0, 23-0, 33-0).

The official origin of March Madness was the writings of H. V. Porter in a 1939 essay entitled "March Madness" that appeared in the IHSA magazine Illinois High School Athlete. (http://www.ihsa.org/NewsMedia/PortersCorner/tabid/537/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/62/The-Origin-of-March-Madness.aspx)

In the early 1940’s, the IHSA began to refer to its basketball tournament as "March Madness". Over the years, the IHSA claimed exclusive rights over the term, and even licensed the phrase to companies such as Pepsi and the Chicago Tribune. However, it hadn’t attempted to register "March Madness" as a trademark until 1990. It was then that the IHSA learned that a television production company named Intersport had already registered the phrase one year earlier, in 1989. Ultimately, the IHSA and Intersport agreed to pool their trademark rights until 1995.

The IHSA got into a dispute with the NCAA over the term, with Intersport opting out. The NCAA claimed that its rights to the term "March Madness" stemmed from a 1982 Tournament broadcast during which announcer Brent Musburger described the Tournament as "March Madness." Nevertheless, the IHSA brought suit to protect its interest in the mark after the NCAA purported to license the term "March Madness" in connection with the promotion of a video game. The district court denied the IHSA’s motion and the Seventh Circuit pointed out that the IHSA could have asked the NCAA not to spoil its "March Madness" trademark by using it to name something else, but the IHSA had waited.

During the waiting, "March Madness" came to identify not just the IHSA tournament, but the NCAA Tournament as well. The court also left open the possibility that other parties beyond the IHSA and the NCAA could use "March Madness", as well. After the ruling, the IHSA and the NCAA consolidated their interests and formed the March Madness Athletic Association ("MMAA") in order to jointly exploit the "March Madness" mark and sue alleged infringers.

"March Madness" became protectable as a trademark a "dual use" or even a "multiple use" term, but it had not become generic. The the Fifth Circuit upheld a ruling in another case that "March Madness" was a descriptive term which had acquired secondary meaning and was therefore protectable as a trademark. Today, users who type in marchmadness.com into their web browsers will be redirected to the home page for the Tournament.

Conclusion

There will always be more legal issues to be argued - as long as there are attorneys, but in the meantime revel in the words of Henry V. Porter, delight in the "happy Madness of March", and enjoy the games. (http://www.natlawreview.com/article/march-madness-isn-t-everyone-trademark-usage)

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