If this March seems a little different than those in years past, well, that’s mostly the pandemic we’re hopefully nearing the end of. But it’s also different in that this year’s edition of the NCAA’s college basketball tournament is to be experienced largely alone, shorn of the communal experience that has made it the institution that it is. The tournament is both big business for the NCAA and something of a drain on business for others, costing companies billions in lost productivity over the course of the month. And on the former point, the NCAA is vigilant in protecting that business against even the notion that someone else might make a buck without their say-so.
In one of the odder trademark cases you’ll come across, the NCAA has lodged its objection to a trademark filing by a group of Richmond, Virginia urologists, claiming that their mark is too close to the NCAA’s “March Madness”. The trademark in question? “Vasectomy Mayhem”.
To answer the two most immediate questions, yes, you’re reading that correctly and no, I don’t know either. Given that the NCAA is vigilant about the “March Madness” trademark and any clever variations thereupon, it shouldn’t be entirely shocking to see them go after any business that so much as suggests that college basketball is played during the third month of the calendar year. Like the Super Bowl, there’s money to be made as an official partner of the tournament, and as unofficial associations threaten that money, well, it’s the NCAA’s obligation as the organizing body for “amateur” athletics to protect that money — for the kids, one presumes.
That said, this seems small and petty even for an organization known to embody those two qualities at all times. The NCAA can assert that Virginia Urology is creating an undue association with the tournament, but it seems probable that no one is going to make any such assumption about an official vasectomy provider of the tournament, least of all men, who would sooner never think of urologists and vasectomies for any reason.
As with most cases of this type, it’s hyperactivity on the part of a well-heeled organization, which can keep lawyers on retainer to watch for cases such as these. Doubtless the NCAA has a better claim to their vigilance, as it’s not hard to imagine any number of companies that might see fit to use “March Madness” for something like a sale capitalizing on the mania of the moment. But it’s important to distinguish between genuine instances of infringement and those that don’t rise to that level. Trying to go after every business that makes use of the work “madness” or “mayhem” may be the real madness.