'The' Ohio State University wants to trademark the word 'THE'

The school has insisted for years that you call it "THE Ohio State University." Now it has filed for a trademark on the word.
Image: Watts Hall
The campus of Ohio State University ... er, The Ohio State University ... in Columbus in November 2016.John Minchillo / AP file

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By Alex Johnson

Ohio State University athletes and coaches who insist that you call it "THE Ohio State University" could soon have the federal government on their side after the university filed a request to trademark the word "the" last week.

Application No. 88571984, filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday, was discovered and publicized Tuesday by Josh Gerben, a prominent trademark lawyer in Washington. The application seeks a trademark on the single word "THE" for use on T-shirts and baseball caps and hats.

The official trademark application by The Ohio State University on Aug. 8, 2019.U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

For years, the university's demand that it be called "THE Ohio State University" has rankled sports fans and journalists, who've called it "pompous and stupid," "ridiculous" and "arrogant."

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Partisans, including the university, point out that "the" is part of its name under state law. And Chris Davey, a spokesman for the university, told The Columbus Dispatch on Tuesday that it's important 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," Davey said.

But Ohio State's greatest rival, the University of Michigan, poked fun at the filing on Wednesday, tweeting the satirical suggestion that it had trademarked the word "OF."

Gerben predicted on Tuesday that Ohio State was "likely to receive an initial refusal of the application."

For a trademark to be registered for a brand of clothing, the trademark "must be used in a trademarked fashion," he said on Twitter. "In other words, it has to be used on tagging or labeling for the products.

"In this case, just putting the word 'the' on the front of a hat or on the front of a shirt is not sufficient trademark use," he said.