Ohio State Buckeyes win their own brand on the word ‘the’

If you’ve ever watched Monday Night Football, you’ve probably heard former Ohio State football players proudly announce their school as “The Ohio State University,” with an emphasis on the word “the”, pronounced with the long “e”. like “ti.”

That simple article became part of Ohio State culture, and the university successfully registered a trademark for “THE”. The trademark, initially applied for in August 2019, took three years to be approved and will apply to any clothing and apparel questions.

So while the Buckeyes don’t own the word “the”, it’s one of the more unique brands.

Josh Gerben is a trademark attorney and founder of Gerben Intellectual Property in Washington, DC, who noted that it’s common for universities to protect their logos and emblems, but it’s very unusual to register such a vague word.

“You can’t own the word for everything, so they don’t own the word,” Gerben said. “This was something they apparently felt was important enough to put the time and energy into recording and ultimately be able to survey the market from anyone who could use the word as branded clothing.”

Clothing brand Marc Jacobs had also applied for a branding for the word, so it’s possible, according to Gerben, that the state of Ohio was taking a defensive stance by requiring branding as well. If Marc Jacobs had gotten the mark, he would have had the authority to ask the state of Ohio to stop using it on their clothing.

“On the other hand, you sometimes see people filing trademark applications for things they may not have tried to register before because they see the trademark being used in the market,” Gerben said. “It’s kind of common for people to go online and try to sell fake products with college logos and slogans and things like that. Even on a professional level, you’ll see people selling that kind of items and then they might get a registered trademark so that they can access platforms such as Etsy or Amazon or wherever the items are sold and remove those listings. “

This does not take away from the fact that it is unique to register this word.

As with all college football, rivalries were involved. When it was first announced that Ohio State was applying for the branding in 2019, the University of Michigan Twitter account teased the idea by posting an image of the word “of” with a TM as a caption.

Gerben said it would be difficult to find another trademark application from a university on a word like this and that universities usually focus on names, logos and slogans.

Even so, getting the brand released does not guarantee that Ohio State will be the only university that can use “THE” on clothing. For the first five years of any trademark registration, another party can respond with a cancellation request as this does not function as a trademark.

“There is an argument in the brand community that words like this may not work as brands,” Gerben said. “In other words, a brand should identify the source of a product. So if you see Nike on the side of a box, you know Nike Inc. made that shoe and there’s a topic to be made there if anyone wants to.”

It seems unlikely anyone would challenge Ohio State for the use of the word, and although the university doesn’t technically own the word, it can now say it has one of the most exclusive brands in sport.


Leave a Comment