Trademark infringement can quickly turn into a serious headache, and trademarked words and phrases are more common than you might expect.
In order to avoid unnecessary trouble, it’s a smart idea to always check (and have your legal team check) all of your contests and deals for trademarked material, whether that be brand names, phrases, or even images. If you’re sent a cease-and-desist letter, you could have to change all of your promotional materials at the last minute, even if your promotion is already up and running.
The trouble with trademarks is they are so incredibly common. Say you were planning a pro football contest. The National Football League (NFL) owns 141 registered trademarks (here’s a small sampling), including 9 containing the word “super.” The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has a similarly long list of trademarked phrases around college basketball, including not only the obvious, like “March Madness,” but also a number of variations, including “March Mayhem,” “Midnight Madness,” and “Middle School Madness.”
The point is, no matter how simple or cleverly varied your contest name is, you should still check everything. And that holds true for evergreen contests as well as those focused on national sports – a quick search for “cutest” reveals that the term “Cutest Critters” is trademarked, so you should avoid using that phrase as your contest title.
Fortunately, looking up trademarks is easy on the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) search function. With the basic word mark search you can quickly search for specific words and phrases to see if there is a live trademark for that phrase.
However, remember that we’re not lawyers, so you should always check with yours.