Mitchell Stabbe has over thirty years of experience in virtually all aspects of trademark law. Over the course of his career, Mitch has experienced numerous changes in trademark law and in technology, with the former often several steps behind the latter. Today, his practice focuses on the ever-evolving interplay between trademarks and the Internet. Over the last few years, for example, Mitch has regularly advised clients and provided comments to ICANN concerning the roll-out of hundreds of new generic top level domains (gTLDs) and the protections available to brand owners against cybersquatting and other domain name abuses.

Mitch also counsels clients on the availability and registration of trademarks and service marks and has prosecuted over a thousand applications before the US Patent and Trademark Office. He also is experienced in drafting and negotiating contracts, licenses, assignments and security interests involving intellectual property rights.

Mitch has litigated numerous trademark and copyright infringement and unfair competition civil actions in federal court, including actions against infringers and gray market importers, as well as adversary proceedings in federal court and before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB). In addition, he has successfully prosecuted over fifty claims under the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) to compel the transfer of domain names registered in bad faith.

He has represented companies from a wide array of industries, including communications, media, publishing, technology, education, not-for-profit associations, real estate leasing, banking, and premium cigars.

Alternate Title: March Madness Trademarks: It’s March Spring and You Do Not Want to Make the NCAA Mad Angry at You

As we have previously reported, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is very serious about taking action against anyone who may try to trade off the goodwill in its March Madness marks — even if the NCAA’s actual marks are not used. For example:

  • Readers may recall that the NCAA filed a trademark infringement action in 2017 against a company that ran online sports-themed promotions and sweepstakes under the marks “April Madness” and “Final 3.” The defendant stipulated to an order providing that it would cease using those marks at least until the end of the year, but the order did not provide for dismissal of the case. The defendant failed to file an answer to the complaint and the NCAA was granted a default judgment, after which it filed a motion requesting an award of attorneys’ fees against the defendant in the amount of $242,213.55. In May 2018, the Court awarded attorneys’ fees in the amount of $220,998.05.
  • The NCAA sued a car dealership that had registered and was using the mark “Markdown Madness” in advertising. (The case was settled.)
  • Even schools that are part of the NCAA are not immune from claims of infringement. Seven years after the Big Ten Conference started using the mark “March Is On!,” the NCAA opposed an application to have that mark federally registered. (Ultimately, the opposition was withdrawn, the mark was registered, but the registration was assigned to the NCAA.)

These actions illustrate the level of importance that the NCAA places on acting against the use of trademarks which seek to create an association with its annual Collegiate Basketball Tournament. Clearly, such activities continue to carry great risks. Accordingly, following is an updated version of our prior blog posts on this subject.

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With the NCAA Basketball Tournament about to begin, broadcasters, publishers and other businesses need to be wary about potential claims arising from their use terms and logos associated with the tournament, including March Madness®, The Big Dance®, Final Four® or Elite Eight,® each of which is a federally registered trademark. March Mayhem® is also registered to the NCAA, which is currently seeking to register March to the Madness.

The NCAA Aggressively Defends Against Unauthorized Use of its Trademarks

The NCAA states that $844.3M of its annual revenues derives from the licensing of television and marketing rights in the Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. Moreover, its returns from the tournament have historically grown each year. Most of this income comes from broadcast licensing fees. It also has a substantial amount of revenue from licensing March Madness® and its other marks for use by advertisers. As part of those licenses, the NCAA agrees to stop non-authorized parties from using any of the marks. Indeed, if the NCAA did not actively police the use of its marks by unauthorized companies, advertisers might not feel the need to get a license or, at least, to pay as much as they do for the license. Thus, the NCAA has a strong incentive to put on a full court press to prevent non-licensees from associating their goods and services with the NCAA tournament through unauthorized use of its trademarks.
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For several years, we have posted guidelines about engaging in or accepting advertising or promotions that directly or indirectly allude to the Super Bowl without a license from the NFL. It’s that time of year again, so here is an updated version of our prior posts.

The Super Bowl means big bucks. It is estimated that each of the three television networks that broadcasts the Super Bowl pays the NFL over $1 billion per year for the right to broadcast NFL games through 2022, including the right to broadcast the big game on a rotating basis once every three years. The investment seems to pay off for the networks. The Super Bowl broadcast alone generates hundreds of millions of dollars for the networks from advertisers. In addition to the sums paid to have their commercials aired (reported to be approximately $5 million for a 30-second spot), many advertisers spend more than $1 million to produce each ad. In addition, the NFL receives hundreds of millions of dollars from licensing the use of the SUPER BOWL trademark and logo.

Given the value of the Super Bowl franchise, it is not surprising that the NFL is extremely aggressive in protecting its golden goose from anything it views as unauthorized efforts to trade off the goodwill associated with the game. Accordingly, with the coin toss almost upon us, advertisers must take special care before publishing ads or engaging in promotional activities that refer to the Super Bowl. Broadcasters and news publishers have greater latitude than other businesses, but still need to be wary of engaging in activities that the NFL may view as trademark or copyright infringement. (These risks also apply to other named sporting events, for example, making use of the terms “Final Four” or “March Madness” in connection with the upcoming NCAA Basketball Tournament.)
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It was almost exactly one year ago that we reported that the National Collegiate Athletic Association filed a trademark infringement action in federal court against a company that ran online sports-themed promotions and sweepstakes under the marks “April Madness” and “Final 3.”  The NCAA prevailed because the defendant entered into an agreement not to use the marks, but failed to file an answer to the complaint.  A default judgment was entered.  On February 23, 2018, the NCAA filed a motion requesting an an award of attorneys’ fees against the defendant in the amount of $242,213.55.

The amount of attorneys’ fees incurred in a case that was resolved with relatively little resistance illustrates the level of importance that the NCAA places on taking action against activities that “play off” the NCAA Collegiate Basketball Playoffs.  Clearly, such activities continue to carry great risks.  Accordingly, following is an updated version of last year’s blog post on this subject.

With the NCAA Basketball Tournament about to begin, broadcasters, publishers and other businesses need to be wary about potential claims arising from their use terms and logos associated with the tournament, including March Madness®, The Big Dance®, Final Four® or Elite Eight,® each of which is a federally registered trademark.
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Last month, we posted some updated guidelines about engaging in or accepting advertising or promotions that directly or indirectly allude to the Super Bowl without a license from the NFL.  “As Super Bowl Approaches, Advertisers Should Be Aware of The NFL’s Efforts to Protect Its Golden Goose – 2018 Update”  Now, that is behind us (for another year), it is just in time to think about these issues in the context of the Winter Olympics!

The guidance from last month’s blog addressed the following subjects:

  • Advertising that refers to the Super Bowl or other NFL trademarks;
  • Advertising that uses non-trademarked terms that will be understood by the public to refer to the Super Bowl;
  • Conducting or sponsoring events and parties for viewing the Super Bowl;
  • Sweepstakes or giveaways that use “Super Bowl” as part of its name or offer prizes that include game tickets;
  • Offering “special” coverage relating to the Super Bowl, accompanied by advertising;
  • Congratulatory advertising; and
  • Whether disclaimers will provide a defense to a claim.

The concepts advanced in that discussion apply equally to the Olympics, but the US Olympic Committee has a unique weapon in its arsenal, so there are additional considerations of which you should take note.
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For many years, we have posted guidelines about engaging in or accepting advertising or promotions that directly or indirectly allude to the Super Bowl without a license from the NFL. We are at that time of year again, so here is an updated version of our prior posts.

The Super Bowl means big bucks. It is estimated that each of the three television networks that broadcast the Super Bowl pay the NFL in excess of $1 billion per year for the right to broadcast NFL games through 2022, including the right to broadcast the big game on a rotating basis once every three years. Of course, the game generates hundreds of millions of dollars for the networks from advertisers. In addition to the sums paid to have their commercials seen (approximately $5 million for a 30-second spot), many advertisers spend more than $1 million to produce each ad. In addition, the NFL receives hundreds of millions of dollars in income from licensing the use of the SUPER BOWL trademark and logo.

Not surprisingly, the NFL is extremely aggressive in protecting its golden goose from anything it views as unauthorized efforts to trade off the goodwill associated with the game. Accordingly, with the coin toss almost upon us, advertisers need to take special care before publishing ads or engaging in promotional activities that refer to the Super Bowl. Broadcasters and news publishers have greater latitude than other businesses, but still need to wary of engaging in activities that the NFL may view as trademark or copyright infringement. (These risks also apply to the use of “Final Four” or “March Madness” in connection with the upcoming NCAA Basketball Tournament.)
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The U.S. Supreme Court has invalidated the statutory bar against the federal registration of disparaging trademarks, on the ground that it violates the First Amendment and is unconstitutional. What does this mean for businesses in general, including, in particular, broadcasters and the Washington DC National Football League franchise?

History of the Case

The case involved an application by Simon Tam to register the mark THE SLANTS for an Asian-American band. Mr. Tam selected the name in order to make a statement about racial and cultural issues. The federal Lanham (Trademark) Act states that a trademark shall not be denied registration unless, among other reasons, it:

Consists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.

Accordingly, the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) denied the application on the basis that, regardless of Mr. Tam’s intent, the phrase “THE SLANTS” may be disparaging to a substantial percentage of persons of Asian descent. The PTO also stated that it was bound by a 1981 precedent issued by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, holding that the statute was constitutional.
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Less than a week ago, the National Collegiate Athletic Association filed a trademark infringement action in federal court against a company that runs online sports-themed promotions and contests under the marks “April Madness” and “Final 3.”  The NCAA is seeking injunctive relief, damages, the defendant’s profits, punitive damages and an award of attorneys’ fees.

Last year, I wrote about the risks of publishing ads or engaging in promotional activities that “play off” the NCAA Collegiate Basketball Playoffs.  Clearly, such activities continue to carry great risks.  Accordingly, I am republishing last year’s blog post on this subject:

It’s March Madness!  Know the NCAA’s Rulebook or Risk A Foul Call Against the Unauthorized Use of Its Trademarks

With the NCAA Basketball Tournament about to begin, broadcasters, publishers and other businesses need to be wary about potential claims arising from their use terms and logos associated with the tournament, including March Madness,® The Big Dance,® Final Four® or Elite Eight,® each of which is a federally registered trademark.

The NCAA Aggressively Polices the Use of its Trademarks

It has been estimated that, last year, the NCAA earned $900 million in revenue associated with the NCAA Basketball tournament.  Moreover, its returns from the tournament have historically grown each year.  Most of this income comes from broadcast licensing fees.  It also has a substantial amount of revenue from licensing March Madness® and its other marks for use by advertisers.  As part of those licenses, the NCAA agrees to stop non-authorized parties from using any of the marks.  Indeed, if the NCAA did not actively police the use of its marks by unauthorized companies, advertisers might not feel the need to get a license or, at least, to pay as much as they do for the license.  Thus, the NCAA has a strong incentive to put on a full court press to prevent non-licensees from associating their goods and services with the NCAA tournament through unauthorized use of its trademarks.
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Last year, we posted some guidelines about engaging in or accepting advertising or promotions that directly or indirectly alludes to the Super Bowl without a license from the NFL. We are at that time of year again, so here is an updated version of our prior post.

In addition to the monies it receives annually for the right to broadcast the Super Bowl, the NFL receives more than $1 billion in income from licensing the use of the SUPER BOWL trademark and logo. Not surprisingly, is extremely aggressive in protecting its golden goose from anything it views as unauthorized efforts to trade off the goodwill associated with the game. Accordingly, with the coin toss almost upon us, advertisers need to take special care before publishing ads or engaging in promotional activities that refer to the Super Bowl. Broadcasters and other news publishers have latitude to use the phrase “Super Bowl” in their news and other editorial content, but they need to wary of engaging in activities, particularly in advertising and promotion, that the NFL may view as trademark or copyright infringement. (These risks also apply to the use of “Final Four” or “March Madness” in connection with the upcoming NCAA Basketball Tournament.)

Simply put, the NFL views any commercial activity that uses or refers to the Super Bowl to draw attention as a violation of its trademark rights. Many of the activities challenged by the league undoubtedly deserve a yellow flag. However, the NFL’s rule book defines trademark violations very broadly. If anyone were willing to throw the red flag to challenge the league’s position, a review from the booth might reverse some of those calls.
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As David Oxenford has previously commented, even in states where marijuana has been legalized, broadcasters should be cautious about accepting advertising for marijuana or related paraphilia.  Specifically, decisions by the FDA and the Department of Justice have done little to cut through the smoke shrouding the issue.  Now, perhaps the last United States agency that one might expect to have anything to say has weighed in as well, but the haze remains thick.

Specifically, the US Patent and Trademark Office is not viewed as a policy-making agency, charged with making decisions about what activities or behavior are permissible or impermissable.  Rather, it determines whether trademarks qualify for federal protection through registration, considering issues such as the distinctiveness of a mark and whether it is confusingly similar to a previously registered mark.  As we have discussed in our Trademark Basics for Broadcasters series and our follow-up free webinar, although the various factors seem cut and dried, there is often a great amount of subjectivity and discretion that goes into evaluating each factor.
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With Election Day finally upon us, we wait in anticipation (and with a fair amount of nail biting) as the fate of our country is decided. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for some trademark fun, looking at how law and trademarks can collide. But first, a reminder — don’t forget to dial into our upcoming Trademark Basics webinar, Tuesday, November 15th at 1pm Eastern Time for a live overview of the many issues we have discussed in the last few weeks. Register here today!

And now, back to the law. Even seasoned politicians can get into trademark trouble when crafting their campaign branding strategies. We’ve summarized three somewhat amusing cases below as an Election Day stress reliever!

  • One Quacky Dispute. Tim Hagan, a former candidate for the for governor of Ohio, ran a campaign against incumbent Governor Robert Taft riffing off of the famed “AFLAC DUCK” commercials, in which a white duck repeatedly quacks the AFLAC insurance company’s name in a distinctive, nasal tone. Hagan’s internet commercials included a crudely animated character made up of Governor Taft’s head sitting on the body of a white cartoon duck, with the duck quacking “TaftQuack” several times during each commercial. Hagan broadcast these commercials on his website, www.taftquack.com. The insurance company thought it was no quacking matter and filed a lawsuit in an Ohio district court. The court ultimately determined that the use of this character or the AFLAC marks did not constitute trademark infringement because the ads constituted core political speech warranting First Amendment protection.


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