Columbus, Ohio — The Ohio State University can’t trademark “The.”
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Wednesday turned down the university’s request to trademark “the” in conjunction with the university’s name on items marketed for sale such as T-shirts, baseball caps and hats.
“As such, the applied-for mark appears to be used in a merely decorative manner that would be perceived by consumers as having little or no particular source-identifying significance,” the patent office said in denying Ohio State’s request.
As part of its request, Ohio State submitted a shirt with a large THE on the upper center part of the shirt and hat with THE on front, according to the patent office documents.
“Registration is refused because the applied-for mark as used on the specimen of record is merely a decorative or ornamental feature of applicant’s clothing and, thus, does not function as a trademark to indicate the source of applicant’s clothing and to identify and distinguish applicant’s clothing from others,” the office said.
The office gave Ohio State several ways to remedy the situation, including “proof that applicant’s extensive use and promotion of the mark allowed consumers now directly to associate the mark with applicant as the source of the goods.”
Ohio State didn’t immediately comment on the decision.
As of last fall, Ohio State had about 150 patents in 17 countries, plus other pending applications.
Among its trademarks are the names of former football coaches Urban Meyer and Woody Hayes. The university had Meyer’s name trademarked in 2015 and Hayes in 2016.
Ohio State has gotten into dispute over trademarks in the past. In February 2017, Ohio State requested to trademark the acronym OSU on clothing and apparel.
Oklahoma State University, which also goes by the acronym OSU, objected. Eventually, the two schools signed an agreement that allowed both schools to use the acronym on a national basis.