If you’ve ever watched Monday Night Football, you’ve probably heard former Ohio State footballers proudly call their school “Ohio State University” with the accent on the word “the” pronounced with a long “e”, like “you “.
This simple article became part of Ohio State culture and the university successfully registered the trademark “THE”. The trademark, which was originally applied for in August 2019, took three years to get approved and will apply to any apparel and apparel application.
Thus, although Buckeyes does not own the word “the”, it is one of the most unique trademarks.
Josh Gerben, trademark attorney and founder of Gerben Intellectual Property in Washington, D.C., noted that universities typically protect their logos and emblems, but using such a vague word as a trademark is highly unusual.
“You can’t own the word for everything, so they don’t own the word,” Gerben said. “It was something they apparently considered important enough to waste time and energy on registration and ultimately be able to control the market from anyone who might use the word as branded clothing.”
— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) June 22, 2022
Clothing brand Marc Jacobs has also filed for a trademark for the word, so according to Gerben, it’s possible that the state of Ohio has taken a defensive stance by also filing for a trademark. If Marc Jacobs got the trademark, they would have the right to ask the State of Ohio to stop using it on their clothes.
“On the other hand, sometimes you see people filing for trademarks for things they may not have tried to register before because they see the mark being used in the market,” Gerben said. “People usually go online and try to sell fakes with university logos and catchphrases and stuff like that. registered so they can go to platforms like Etsy or Amazon or wherever products are sold and remove those listings.”
This does not change the fact that the trademark of this word is unique.
As with everything in college football, rivalries arose. When it was first announced in 2019 that the State of Ohio was filing for a trademark, the University of Michigan Twitter account ridiculed the idea by posting an image of the word “of” with the trademark as a caption.
— University of Michigan (@UMich) August 14, 2019
Gerben said you’d be hard-pressed to find another trademark application from a university for such a word, and that universities usually focus on names, logos, and slogans.
However, obtaining a trademark does not guarantee that Ohio State will be the only university that can use “THE” on clothing. During the first five years after the registration of any trademark, the other party may petition for revocation on the grounds that it is not valid as a trademark.
“There is a perception in the trademark community that such words may not act as trademarks,” Gerben said. “In other words, the trademark must identify the source of the product. So, if you see Nike on the side of the box, you know that Nike Inc. produced these shoes, and there is an argument here, if someone wanted to.
It is unlikely that anyone would dispute Ohio State’s use of the word, and while the university does not technically own the word, it can now say that it is one of the most unique trademarks in the sport.