The Ohio State University has received a trademark for one of the most common words in the English language, a word that supporters of the school often emphatically emphasize when pronouncing its name: “The”.
While athletes from other schools may simply say they went to Michigan or Penn State, a Buckeye rarely cuts corners: “The Ohio State University,” they’ll say, usually adding a dramatic pause after emphasizing the the”. The school’s players, alumni and supporters often speak his name in this steady cadence, as football fans who watched NFL starting rosters perform on Sunday or Monday nights most likely heard.
For Ohio State supporters, the tradition is cherished and sets the school apart from others. (For rivals Ohio State, it’s nauseatingly pompous. To each their own.)
The trademark, issued by the US Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday, won’t unleash heavy-handed lawyers looking for anyone who uses the word ‘the’ – its protections are limited to a narrow set of circumstances that people won’t risk to cross unless they are selling counterfeits from the state of Ohio. But it does give the university some protection against unlicensed vendors and adds to the school’s efforts to bind itself to the very common word.
“THE has been a rallying cry in the Ohio State community for many years,” Ben Johnson, an Ohio State spokesman, said in a statement.
Many universities are fiercely protective of their brands, and Ohio State is no different. The trademarks and licensing program earns the university an average of more than $12.5 million annually, Johnson said.
In a notable example from 2012, the University of Alabama apologized to a local baker after receiving a cease-and-desist letter ordering it to stop using the college’s A script on cakes and cookies.
Ohio State University first filed a trademark for “The” in 2019, but ran into a dispute with clothing designer Marc Jacobs, who was also asking to trademark the word for use in his clothing. They reached an agreement in 2021 that would allow them both to file trademarks for the word; The Ohio State brand is limited to apparel — T-shirts and hats — that are sold through “typical sports and collegiate athletics channels,” according to its brand.
This specific purpose is why Ohio State trademarking the common word won’t prevent other companies from having the word “the” in their names or products, said Josh Gerben, a trademark attorney. . The mark would only be used if someone tried to represent the state of Ohio using the word, he said.
“The State of Ohio won’t have very broad protection on the word,” he said. “It’s a very, very narrow record with very, very narrow application capabilities associated with it.”