Ohio State University Trademarks the Word “THE”

It’s official: the Ohio State University has trademarked “THE.”  That’s right, the word “THE.” But, it’s not what you might think.  

Not surprisingly, they were denied when they first applied in August 2019. Nearly three years later, this past June, it was approved by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

It was no easy task, however. To trademark a word or phrase, it must be something that clearly identifies a company and sets it apart from others. This, therefore, makes the process of trademarking common words so difficult and lengthy. Consequently, “THE” proved to be a challenging trademark to register because Ohio State had to prove that this word was a distinctive feature of their identity.  

Moreover, it turned out that the university wasn’t the only organization wanting to trademark it. They quickly discovered that a trademark application had also been filed by clothing designer Marc Jacobs for the same word. 

In 2021, they agreed to a settlement that would let them both have the trademark registration. Ultimately, Ohio State’s trademark only applies to sports-related merchandise. It’s for this reason that, although the university has trademarked “the”, it doesn’t prevent other companies from using it in their product names.  

Why Did The Ohio State University Trademark “THE”?

Many universities are known for being protective of their trademarks, and Ohio State is no exception. They first introduced “THE” as their logo in 1986 to avoid confusion with other universities who also share the initials of “OSU”.

In response to the widespread sale of counterfeit apparel, the university sought federal trademark protection for “THE” in order to prevent this merchandise from reaching its fans.

Clothing that promotes their athletic departments, such as t-shirts and sports gear, is protected under this trademark registration. It’s intended exclusively for merchandise where “THE” appears alone. Although the trademark registration is limited, it gives Ohio State the ability to take action against counterfeiters looking to use the university’s reputation for their own profit.  

Does this mean that you will face the consequences if you use “the” in any of your business communications? Unless you’re planning to make and sell Ohio State merchandise, it’s highly unlikely that you will violate their trademark. 

If You Need a Consulting Regarding Trademark Protection, Sanchelima & Associates Can Help

Sanchelima & Associates, P.A. is one of the leading intellectual property law firms in South Florida. With over 40 years of experience, we have represented the IP interests of a wide array of businesses in the US and abroad, including Fortune 500 companies. Whether you need a consultation or prosecution of a patent, trademark, or copyright, we can protect your business’s interests. 

Contact us to book your consultation!

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