NCAA Initiates Trademark Infringement Suit Against Online Game Developer Over “April Madness”

With “March Madness” upon us, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) filed suit in the Southern District of Indiana, alleging trademark infringement and unfair competition.

As background, the NCAA has used the trademarks “Final Four” and “March Madness” to identify and distinguish is basketball competitions for over twenty years. The NCAA marks cover goods like duffel bags, tote bags, and telecommunication services.

Notorious for protecting its right to the “Madness” name, the NCAA initiated this trademark infringement suit over online fantasy games called “April Madness.” Also, the NCAA claimed that the “Final 3” online bracket-predicting game is a blatant infringement of the NCAA’s “Final Four” trademark.

The NCAA’s complaint names online game maker, Kizzang LLC and its owner, Robert Alexander, as the defendants in this suit. The defendants provide national online-gaming, which awards prizes for correctly predicting the results of Sporting events.

The NCAA alleged the defendants’ “April Madness” was adopted for the same services as “Final 3,” but delayed its release upon learning that the NCAA objected to their use of the “Final 3” name. Defendants have applied for federal trademarks for both marks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Notably, this is not first dispute between the NCAA and Kizzang. In February, 2015 the NCAA filed an opposition with the USPTO when Kizzang filed its trademark application for “April Madness.” It filed a similar block on “Final 3” in December.

The plaintiff’s complaint stated that “[t]he NCAA partners with a select group of businesses committed to supporting the mission and core values of the NCAA. . . Only authorized businesses are permitted to use the ‘Final Four’ and ‘March Madness’ marks.”

The NCAA continued, “[d]efendants are planning to offer through their apps further infringing uses of ‘Final 3’ and ‘April Madness,’ including in connection with college basketball.” Specifically, the NCAA maintained that it “recently learned that defendants plan to use ‘Final 3’ for a 2017 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship Final Four based contest.”

In pertinent part, the NCAA alleged the defendants adopted and used these names because of their similarity to the NCAA marks, with the intention of exploiting the goodwill associated with “March Madness” and “Final Four.”

This case comes after years of arguing over the “March Madness” trademark, as the Illinois High School Association originally coined the term for its yearly tournament. The two groups disputed over the name in a heated litigation, but eventually agreed to share the rights.

The NCAA has been aggressive in its enforcement of those rights. For example, the NCAA took on one of its own last month when it filed an opposition with the USPTO against the Big Ten Conference when the Big Ten attempted to register “March is on!” as a trademark.

Importantly, the NCAA’s complaint asserted common law trademark rights to the “images of brackets, and marks consisting of or referring to the term ‘bracket.’”

The remedies sought by the NCAA include a judgment of willful and intentional violations of Federal Trademark statutes and Indiana common law; injunctive relief restraining the defendants from further use of “Final 3” and “April Madness,” an order that the USPTO deny registration for the marks; and damages.

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