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THE Ohio State University Applies For THE Stupidest Trademark In THE World

from the THE dept

We’ve talked ongoing about how ridiculous and aggressive many universities are becoming on trademark matters. Now colleges and universities do many, many annoying things, but their tendency towards trademark bullying certainly ranks up there near the top of the list. Not as high, of course, as Ohio State’s neverending insistence that everyone call it “THE Ohio State University.” The school likes to point out that the “the” (sigh) is actually part of the school’s legal name, when the reality is that the school is simply being haughty and pedantic.

Well, now these two worlds are colliding in what might just be the dumbest trademark application I’ve ever seen. You’ll never guess what single word OSU wants to trademark.

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.  

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.”

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.”

This, simply, is absurd. Trademark law is written in such a way to be wide open for abuse, but even this is a bridge further than the law will allow. Trademarks require original identifiers that indicate the source of a good or service and the bar for approval by the Trademark Office goes up the shorter and less original the identifier is. The idea that someone might apply for a trademark on the single most commonly used determiner in the English language is the sort of thing reserved for jokes in our comments section. But THE Ohio State University went ahead and did it anyway.

Other schools took notice, of course, and some of them are having fun at OSU’s expense.

Michigan getting a trademark on the word “of” makes every bit as sense as OSU’s application. Fortunately, despite all of the madness we see from the USPTO on a frequent basis, nobody seems to think this application is going to be approved.

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.

That careful analysis is almost certainly correct, but I much prefer to simply point out that this is all very, very crazy and be done with it.

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Companies: the ohio state

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Comments on “THE Ohio State University Applies For THE Stupidest Trademark In THE World”

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29 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

A representative of THE ohio state university will be sending you a cease-and-desist letter shortly. Your usage of words containing "TH" such as "that," "there," and "this" is very close in spelling to TOSU’s trademark of "THE" and may create confusion among consumers suggesting your comments are approved by THE ohio state university. To avoid legal action, we suggest you modify your letter choice to "zat," "zere," and "zis."

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I know an issue with a pun trademark ("Lettuce Turnip the Beet") also came up recently, and they got the trademark by committing to using it in a branding sense (the on-the-tag standard), not just for decoration. But then sued someone else who used it in decorative fashion only (not on-the-tag, just text on the shirt for display).

Because the text has far lower protection for its generic nature (its a pun in a plain font), it can’t get protection for decorative display, unlike say the Nike swoosh. Its why the USPTO had fought the trademark application for ‘Lettuce Turnip the Beet’, as they can’t own the pun itself. The company with the trademark sued anyway. Its being litgated.

I’d hope that the USPTO, dealing with the ‘The’ trademark would learn from this mistake. The clear point is to put ‘The’ on apparel in decorative fashion, not just on-the-tag branding.

But I fear you are right.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Ah to be so optimistic...

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.

I mean, they’re not wrong, yet at the same time this is the USPTO we’re talking about, who’s motto might as well be ‘if there’s a way to screw something up we will find it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Its all in the pronunciation

After seeing an article on this last week, my wife suggested that everyone just go around pronouncing it thə instead of thee Ohio State. It doesn’t work in writing, but if we can get everyone to say it that way to their faces, maybe they’ll stop being such large douches about the word.

I’m pretty sure everyone in the surrounding Big10 states that isn’t from there would be up for it.

Anonymous Coward says:

No one should be allowed to trademark one word in common use,
will someone trademark like ,upvote, follow and just sue all the
social media websites that use it.
I understand they want to use THE for merch or clothing items .
Will someone trademark wtf or omg, simple words that are in common use
on the web .One should not think there is any rational limit
to what the patent office will grant.
It s not anything to do with common sense .
Some one applied to patent the practise of shadowbanning users
on forums or social media websites,
Shadow banning has been use on forums by moderators for at least 15 years
by moderators .
eg rude or obnoxious content posted by certain users
is not visible to anyone apart from the user who is shadow banned .
it was not invented by the person who is seeking a patent .

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