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The Business of Basketball: What March Madness Teaches Us About Intellectual Property

March 20th, 2013
in econ_news, syndication

Written by Paul Cohen

Econintersect:  Intellectual property (IP) laws are confusing and often draconian. Before the 2013 hoopSuper Bowl, Samsung put out a commercial advertising its Galaxy S3 smartphone and mocking the IP laws behind the restrictions of using phrases like "Super Bowl," "San Francisco 49ers" or "Baltimore Ravens." Samsung humorously slips by with phrases like “the big game,” “San Francisco Fifty-Minus-Ones” and “Baltimore Blackbirds” to prove one simple point — IP laws are often stupid.

During the 2012 Olympics, local London businesses weren't able to capitalize on the event because the word "Olympics" couldn't be used unless you were an official (and high paying) sponsor. A British meat shop even had to remove sausage links shaped like the Olympic rings from its store window.

Follow up:

You might wonder how arranging sausage links into circles could be against the law and we would agree with you. Luckily the NCAA is taking measures to show the rest how it's done. March Madness might be the best example of open access and reasonable IP rules.

March Madness

Before we go praising the NCAA for its generosity, it should be noticed that they might not have as much control over March Madness as the NFL does over a Super Bowl game. March Madness actually didn't start with the NCAA. The Illinois High School Association coined the phrase for its high school basketball state championship. Sports commentator Brent Musburger worked for a Chicago TV network early in his career and used the term March Madness while covering high school basketball. When we moved to the national stage and covered college basketball, he took the phrase with him.

So, NCAA — nice guy or helpless sheep? It's hard to tell, but they certainly don't pursue offenders using March Madness as aggressively as the NFL. You still can't use the term to promote a product in the commercial (unless, again, you're an official sponsor), but it's unlikely you'll face a penalty for arranging sausages to spell “March Madness.”

Availability

CBS is the official network of the NCAA men's and women's basketball championships, and the prime place to watch, but both CBS and the NCAA have made sure there are other ways to watch the game. Some cable providers give their customers multi-screen and online access to games during the tournament, especially the early rounds when there are more games. Packages like Cox Cable at Cable.tv give viewers multiple games at once in one screen, something the NFL only offers if you pay more for a package like Sunday Ticket.

Early games can also be watched on TNT, TBS and truTV, giving the NCAA a leg up on other events like the Super Bowl which are limited to one network. IP laws still have a long way to go, and the progress made by college basketball could be a technicality, but it's a step in the right direction to correct what are otherwise extremely overzealous laws.









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