Ohio State’s ownership of the trademark “The” has been legally formalized, a development that won’t be received warmly among non-Buckeyes college football fans.
The school’s trademark application for the most commonly used word in the English language was officially approved on Tuesday, first reported by trademark attorney Josh Gerben. The Buckeyes football program more or less confirmed the news on Twitter:
How could Ohio State be granted such a trademark? Well, as Gerben explains it, Ohio State initially applied for the trademark in Aug. 2019, but was rejected because a) the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office found it to be “merely ornamental” and b) clothing company Marc Jacobs applied for a trademark on the same word months earlier.
Ohio State reportedly opposed Marc Jacobs’ application and ultimately reached a settlement in Aug. 2021 allowing co-ownership of “The.” One year later, it has apparently convinced the USPTO its use of the word is more than ornamental, allowing it to move forward and successfully register the trademark.
What does Ohio State’s ‘The’ trademark really mean?
To be clear, you do not have to pay Ohio State to use the word “The” (Yahoo Sports would be guilty of 48 uses in this article alone if that were the case). The trademark only pertains to Class 25 (clothing, basically) and only in the realm of sports apparel, as outlined in Gerben’s screencap:
Clothing, namely, t-shirts, baseball caps and hats; all of the foregoing being promoted, distributed, and sold through channels customary to the field of sports and collegiate athletics
So this trademark should only affect you if you were planning to sell any clothing with a big “THE” emblazoned on them.
Ohio State fans (and players) using “The” has been a frequent sight for decades, originating from the school’s formal name as “The Ohio State University.” While the definite article has technically been a part of the name since its change from “Ohio Agricultural & Mechanical College” in 1878, the school made a deliberate move in 1986 to use “The” in its branding to differentiate itself from other OSUs such as Oregon State and Oklahoma State.
The change was clearly popular in Buckeye land, and should be a lucrative one now as well, via the Associated Press:
“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,” said Ben Johnson, the university’s senior director of media and public relations. He noted the university’s licensing and trademark program generates over $12.5 million a year in revenue, which helps fund student scholarships and university programs.