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.

Filed Under: the, trademark
Companies: the ohio state


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  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 19 Aug 2019 @ 7:39pm

    I am still convinced there is a 75% chance of this being granted.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2019 @ 7:50pm

      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."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 20 Aug 2019 @ 8:34am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 20 Aug 2019 @ 12:57pm

      Re:

      TOSU??

      Short for Tosu r..
      Tossor?? Wanker??
      Let them have it..
      I can see every cap and shirt with a MARKER WRITTEN, R' on the end.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 19 Aug 2019 @ 8:16pm

    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.'

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2019 @ 8:56pm

    Years ago when P2Pnet was still around I sardonically remarked that all the MPAA needed to do was put out a film titled "The", then make a killing by suing everyone for using one of the most common words in the English language.

    Looks like Ohio State has gone full IP retard...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dazancic, 19 Aug 2019 @ 9:08pm

    I think "The" Columbus Dispatch may be trying to get in on the fun as well

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bobob, 19 Aug 2019 @ 9:11pm

    Well, if they don't trademark it, the Chinese will steal it... Chinese language has no articles.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 20 Aug 2019 @ 1:13am

      Re:

      Chinese manufacturing has. But it gets expensive if you have to throw a smartphone every time an American would say "the".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    ryuugami, 19 Aug 2019 @ 10:00pm

    What [censored] fuck.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2019 @ 11:24pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Aug 2019 @ 7:13am

      Re: Its all in the pronunciation

      Not just say it to their faces, but be just as pedantic and asinine about correcting their pronunciation. Every time they use the "thee" pronunciation, just say "I think you mean "thə". Or just go off the deep end and only refer to it as teh Ohio State University.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 20 Aug 2019 @ 1:16am

    Frankly, I thought you meant "TEH"

    Not that there wouldn't have been prior art for that as well but at least there would have been some sort of unique element (even if stolen).

    But "THE"? How much more generic can you get? Maybe "A"?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Aug 2019 @ 3:36am

    Rubs hands together Yeees. Go forth and conquer!
    If they succeed in this, I will finally be able to enact my grand plan of trademarking the word "Man". Everyone will be in violation by just existing.
    It is perfect and genius I tell you!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bobvious, 20 Aug 2019 @ 4:19am

    This is THE day THEir life will surely change

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    rkhalloran (profile), 20 Aug 2019 @ 5:46am

    absurdity

    I'm an OSU alumni, and love my alma mater, but this is freakin' ridiculous, and I hope it gets justly shot down by USPTO.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    bwburke94 (profile), 20 Aug 2019 @ 6:56am

    *AN Ohio State University

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Wolfie0827 (profile), 20 Aug 2019 @ 8:28am

    Trademark

    I am wondering if this is an attempt by the University to show how bad the current trademark system is.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Aug 2019 @ 8:58am

      Re: Trademark

      Probably just an attempt to get publicity for "the" message. Obviously it's working. I'd never heard of this controversy before.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Aug 2019 @ 9:06am

    Can Bill Clinton trademark IS?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Aug 2019 @ 10:59am

    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 .

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Wyrm (profile), 20 Aug 2019 @ 11:20am

    Absurdity

    For the past few years, it seems like people decided to take the most absurd jokes of all kinds and turn them real.

    • Trump as POTUS. (ask the Simpsons.)
    • Nazis coming back in the open. (ask many movie villains.)
      ...
    • Trademarking the word "the". (ask any commenter here under a trademark article.)

    Fortunately, this last one is not approved... yet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Aug 2019 @ 1:12pm

    i have a particularly thorny solution.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    SpaceLifeForm, 20 Aug 2019 @ 3:33pm

    The The The The The The

    The STUPID

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Hugo S Cunningham (profile), 20 Aug 2019 @ 4:44pm

    As Mary McCarthy might have put it...

    "Every word in their argument is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glenn, 20 Aug 2019 @ 9:33pm

    Da Bears!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Junkyardmagic, 21 Aug 2019 @ 1:31am

    Hold my beer

    Damn stupid, put the international Olympic committee will always be contenders. I did some work around the Olympics is London, and was of course given a big list of copyright no-no's.
    Apparently they had actually tried to copyright '2012', at which point the UK government finally pushed back.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 21 Aug 2019 @ 12:02pm

    This is so much fun..

    With a Uni,
    saying and doing stuff like this, NOW I know how bad the politics are in this country.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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