The Battle of Munch Madness
If you have ever lived in the United States, you have likely heard of March Madness. The collegiate basketball tournament is one of the most highly anticipated annual sporting events, as the possibility of seeing upsets in games pitting Davids and Goliaths against one another provides incredible drama. Eager to protect the name of its multi-million dollar competition, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has now petitioned the US Patent and Trademark Office to prohibit the Boston Globe from obtaining a trademark for the phrase “Munch Madness.”
Inspired by the basketball tournament, the Boston Globe began using Munch Madness to refer to its annual tournament of 64 restaurants in the Boston area. Similar to the basketball tournament, the restaurant competition seeds competitors, places them in brackets, and divides its competition into rounds. The newspaper prints its brackets and asks readers to vote for the winner of every “game.” The rounds of the restaurant tournament correspond with March Madness games. To advance to the final, restaurants have to defeat five competitors.
Worried that people may confuse the Munch Madness competition with its own March Madness tournament, the NCAA argues that the Globe should be denied a trademark as the NCAA’s brand could be damaged by the use of “Munch Madness.” Lawyers for the NCAA point to The New York Times’ recent lawsuit against AOL, wherein it forced the company to rename the parenting blog, “Parentlode,’’ because it sounded similar to the Times’ “Motherlode’’ blog, as ample precedent for the assertion that similar names could lead to confusion.
It is hard to understand why the NCAA feels so threatened by the phrase “Munch Madness.” The name has obviously been inspired by March Madness, but no one who has heard of the Boston-area restaurant competition would think it was in any way related to or sanctioned by the NCAA. Aside from the similarity in names, there is nothing that would lead a reader to believe the tournaments were associated with one another. This case appears to be another in a long line of similar cases mentioned on this blog where organizations act over-zealously to protect their trademarks.