In 1878, the Ohio legislature passed a law which officially changed the name of the public institution located in Columbus, Ohio to “The Ohio State University.” Since then, persons affiliated with the campus have conditioned themselves to consistently and proudly boast the word “The” when referring to their school.

Officials for The Ohio State University have taken this passion for one of the most common words in the English language one step further. On Thursday, August 8, 2019, the university filed a trademark application in the United States Patent and Trademark Office on the word “THE.” According to the application, the university claims that the trademark is primarily for use on a line of clothing and sport memorabilia, such as t-shirts, caps, and hats.

Although common words and phrases can secure trademark registration if the applicant can prove a distinctive usage outside the traditional meaning, the university may have some obstacles to overcome in order to secure the mark. For clothing, a trademark must be used in a trademark fashion, meaning that the mark must be used on tagging or labeling for the products. Specimens submitted by the university to the Patent and Trademark office show different forms of apparel emblazoned with the word “THE.” Although the gear is certainly eye-catching, simply slapping the work on an article of clothing may be insufficient use of the trademark.

Chris Davey, a spokesman for the university, confirmed the filing of the application and claimed that the measure was necessary in order to protect the school’s brand. According to Davey, “Ohio State works to vigorously protect the university’s brand and trademarks. These assets hold significant value, which benefits our students and faculty and the broader community by supporting our core academic mission of teaching and research.”

The school has previously filed for trademark registration, most notably on the names and likeness of famous football coaches Woody Hayes and Urban Meyer. The phrases “Script Ohio,” which is affiliated with the school’s marching band, and “The Shoe,” which refers to the school’s massive football stadium, have also been previously submitted for trademark registration.

Article written by Richard Alvarado, J.D. Candidate, University of Houston. Buche & Associates, P.C. specializes in intellectual property litigation.

Patent Attorney in San Diego