Trademarks are not just important for commercial success. It is also vital for some nonprofit organizations to protect their branding in furtherance of their charitable missions.

It may surprise some readers to learn that the National Collegiate Athletic Association, known as the NCAA, is a nonprofit organization. Despite its high-profile tournaments and extensive merchandising, 96 percent of its “expenses” advance its cause of benefitting student athletes and collegiate membership, according to the NCAA website.

While the rest of us were busy filling out our brackets in anticipation of the Final Four, the NCAA planned for financial success from its multi-venue, multi-game tournament by aggressively protecting its many affiliated registered trademarks and phraseology from unauthorized use by businesses for marketing or promotions or the sale of knock-off merchandise. Associated revenue includes that generated by tickets, branded merchandise, ads and other licensed uses.

According to the StarTribune, the NCAA owns “more than two dozen trademarks on words and phrases related to the college basketball tournament” such as:

  • March Madness
  • Final Four
  • Elite Eight
  • 68 TEAMS, ONE DREAM
  • And Then There Were Four
  • The Big Dance
  • Dribble (in reference to a children’s parade during the Final Four)
  • The Road to Minneapolis
  • And others

In all, the StarTribune reports that the NCAA has approximately 70 trademarks, including the College World Series and the Frozen Four.

The takeaway for other charitable organizations is to seek legal advice about what trademarks they should pursue. Protecting intellectual property can enhance the bottom line, translating into more support for an organization’s charitable mission.