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Ohio State University officially wins trademark for the word 'THE'

After years of legal wrangling, OSU was awarded trademark protection for the three-letter article from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Ohio State University won a yearslong legal battle for "THE" on Tuesday, gaining trademark protection for a three-letter article that plays an outsize role in school identity.

Surely to the sighs and eye rolls of other Big Ten rivals, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office approved OSU's application for "THE," specifically for use on branded products like T-shirts and caps that only feature the single word.

“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,” Ben Johnson, OSU's senior director of media and public relations, said in a statement Wednesday.

While those three letters might seem small or inconsequential to outsiders, Johnson said "THE" contributes about $12.5 million in annual sales and much more in emotional capital to Buckeyes students, alumni and fans.

"Like other institutions, Ohio State works to protect the university’s brand and trademarks because these assets benefit students and faculty, and support our core academic mission of teaching and research," Johnson added.

"Ohio State’s trademark and licensing program generates an average of over $12.5 million annually in revenue for the university, which funds student scholarships and university programs."

OSU has been pursuing the trademark since 2019 after fashion retailer Marc Jacobs filed an application for the word. Last year the company and OSU reached a deal that allows both parties to use "THE" in branding.

OSU is one of the country's famous college sports powers, regularly fielding championship-level football teams and winning basketball squads.

To the annoyance of Buckeyes rivals, school alums regularly announce themselves to be graduates of "THE Ohio State University."

While "THE" might be prominent on t-shirts and caps in Columbus, Buckeyes officials have not asked for that additional article on any official Big Ten documents or IDs, a conference rep said.

"They will maintain current naming conventions for other purposes, so in our case we would typically use 'Ohio State' or occasionally the more formal 'Ohio State University,'" the conference said.