Ohio State University trademarks “The”

On Behalf of | Jul 7, 2022 | Trademark enforcement, Trademarks |

Pro football fans are familiar with seeing players introducing themselves as announcers go over starting line-ups. Many players come out of Ohio State’s acclaimed football program and always refer to their alma mater as The Ohio State. As it turns out, the use of “the” followed by a dramatic pause before saying the school’s name has been a Buckeye rallying cry for many years.

The school initially tried to pursue a trademark in 2019 after fashion retailer Marc Jacobs applied for the use of the word two months earlier. The United States Patent Office (USPTO) rejected the school’s initial application, stating that the word “the” was used in a “merely decorative manner” or as an “ornamental feature.” It ruled that the trademark wouldn’t function as a way to differentiate its branded products from others.

USPTO reverses ruling

In June of 2022, the USPTO reversed itself, approving the university’s request — the school and Marc Jacobs came to an agreement in 2021. The approval allows both parties to register for trademarks for the word.

The school’s protections of “The” (one of the most commonly used words in the English language) only apply to branded sports merchandise sold via athletic or collegiate outlets, including T-shirts, hats and baseball caps. Nevertheless, it protects the school against knock-off products sold by unlicensed merchants – schools are fiercely protective of their trademarks for a reason, with OSU selling about $12.5 million annually in merchandise.

Need help with a unique trademark issue?

Those looking to appeal a trademark ruling or are interested in protecting commonly used words can start the process by consulting with an experienced intellectual property attorney who handles unique trademark challenges.

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