Make sure your catchy slogan doesn’t land you in legal hot water.
It’s March Madness, and everyone is gearing up for the NCAA Final Four, especially in Minneapolis because the tournament is here! This is a great opportunity for local businesses to capitalize on a major event to boost revenue. An article that appeared in the local paper this week was a good reminder on some of the hidden traps for the unwary. Rushing to come up with that captivating slogan could land you in legal hot water if you don’t cross your legal T’s and dot your legal I’s.
According to the article, the NCAA has more than two dozen trademarks on slogans and expressions related to the Final Four tournament that it carefully controls and aggressively protects. Some of the slogans seem obvious. For example, “Final Four” and “Elite Eight.” But there are other slogans such as “And Then There Were Four” and “The Big Dance.” Who would have thought that a local establishment couldn’t play on that and advertise a big dance to celebrate wins?
Okay. Trademark law is nuanced, so maybe you can get away with it, depending on how it is used, but check with your favorite lawyer before you do. “The Big Dance” is trademarked. I did my homework.
As to the point of not believing everything you read, if you read in the USPTO trademark database that something is trademarked. Yes. Of course. You should believe that.
But, if you have a marketing strategy centered around the slogan, “The Road To Minneapolis,” and you read in the local newspaper that you can’t use it without permission, check with your lawyer and do your homework before you hit the panic button. A check of the USPTO trademark database shows that the NCAA abandoned that trademark as of September 2004. That means it is free for you to use as you wish, barring other prohibitions.
The bottom line is that prudent business strategy is to keep your favorite lawyer by your side as you grow your business. Things that seem harmless often result in expensive mistakes for the uninformed. A good lawyer will be able to guide you through the landmines and keep you on the right side of the law, so you can focus your energy on pursuing your passion and growing that business without the avoidable expense and distraction of a cease-and-desist letter or other legal trouble. Another thing Mom said: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Smart woman.
When in doubt, check it out. Have a question? Grab a spot on my calendar.