from the facepalm dept
Normally, when we see what we consider a dumb trademark dispute over a dumb trademark resulting in two parties calling a truce and stopping the dumbness, we cheer such resolutions on. Far too many dumb trademark disputes find their way into the courtroom or become prolonged USPTO disputes, after all. So, when a resolution is amicably reached, that tends to be a good thing.
This is not one of those times. You will recall that since the middle of 2019, we have been discussing a crazy trademark application made by The Ohio State University for the word “THE”. Yes, the school is trying to trademark what may well be the most commonly used word in the English language simply because of its own pompous insistence that its school be recognized with that word at the start of its name. It’s dumb enough, in fact, that former OSU footballer and current NCAA Football analyst Kirk Herbstreit panned the school’s actions in an interview. Despite the public outcry over all of this, and despite the school initially being denied the mark by the USPTO on largely technical grounds, OSU has continued to press on trying to get its trademark.
Unfortunately, as it did so, it discovered that another player had entered this tournament of stupid. Luxury clothier Marc Jacobs had apparently submitted its own trademark application for “THE”, because idiot-lightning apparently does strike twice. And, while OSU had planned an opposition to the application, the two sides have now announced a truce.
The university said an agreement filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will allow both parties to use “THE” on their products until the office makes “further rulings” on the matter, according to a statement from Ohio State spokesman Benjamin Johnson.
“Ohio State is pleased to have reached an agreement with Marc Jacobs,” he said. “Ohio State and Marc Jacobs have agreed to suspend opposition proceedings while awaiting further rulings from the Patent and Trademark Office. Marc Jacobs’ THE branded products are associated with high-end/contemporary fashion,” Johnson said. “Ohio State’s THE branded products are associated with and sold through athletics and collegiate channels.”
Meanwhile, both parties’ “THE” trademark applications are still insane and should never be allowed to reach the state of approved trademark. Again, truces like this are normally a good thing, but when that truce is called over an agreement to temporarily share the usage of one of the most commonly used words in a language, not so much.
The most recent information OSU provided to the USPTO was all to do with just how long the school has referred to itself as THE Ohio State University, as well as the wide range of apparel and merch for which it has used the word “THE”. Left out of that information is any substantive explanation for how in the absolute hell “THE” on athletic gear is suppose to be a source identifier among the general public for that specific school. It seems like the only possible argument would be roughly: “We’ve been so annoying about using this common word wherever possible that a large section of the public hates us for it and thus would make the connection.”
But for OSU, and frankly for Marc Jacobs, I can’t imagine how such an assertion could possibly clear the bar towards making this a valid trademark.