Did Ohio State University REALLY trademark the word 'THE'? Confusion over what it actually entails

The US Patent and Trademark Office had awarded the university trademark protection for the three-letter word


                            Did Ohio State University REALLY trademark the word 'THE'? Confusion over what it actually entails
The application was filed back in August 2019 (The Ohio State University/Facebook)
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The Ohio State University (OSU) has finally won a nearly three-year battle to get trademark protection for the three-letter article, ‘The,’ that they claim plays a crucial role in school identity. The announcement came on June 21 after the US Patent and Trademark Office approved the university's application for a trademark of the word that contributes about $12.5 million in annual sales and much more in emotional capital to students, alumni and fans, as per Ben Johnson, OSU's senior director of media and public relations.

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As per NBC, in a statement made on Wednesday, June 22, the senior director said, “'The' has been a rallying cry in the Ohio State community for many years, and Buckeye fans who purchase official Ohio State gear support student scholarships, libraries and other university initiatives.” He further stated that the university registered the word as a trademark to protect its brand. 

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What does the trademark document say?

A certificate from the US Patent and Trademark Office obtained by local news channel WCMH

The document, obtained by local news channel WCMH, is registered under Class 25 and allows the school to use 'The' on clothing, namely, T-shirts, baseball caps, and hats, promoted, distributed, and sold through sports and college athletics. According to it, 'the' mark consists of standard characters without claim to any particular font style, size, or color.

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The three-year trademark battle

Ohio State, which was founded in 1870 as the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College and changed its name to The Ohio State University in 1878, originally filed to trademark 'The' in 2019 but the application was rejected. In a thread on Twitter, trademark attorney Josh Gerben explained the reasons behind the rejection and the process that took three years. He stated that fashion retailer Marc Jacobs had also applied for a trademark. In the end, they reached a deal that allows both parties to use ‘The’ in branding.

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In a conversation with Business Insider, he said, "So here, Ohio State has tried to register the trademark for the word 'THE' as it relates to a clothing brand — and ultimately that is what they have registered here." He added that the rights the school has from the trademark in the clothing space are limited and could only be enforced in a narrow context. "Federal registration, if the mark is highly unique, would theoretically allow Ohio State to be the only brand that uses the word 'THE' in the clothing space," Gerben said.

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According to Gerben, there are many other trademarks already registered in the clothing space that use the word 'The.' An example of violating the trademark, he says, would be if someone starts making shirts with the Ohio State colors and tries to sell them using the word 'THE.'

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