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Ohio State University Loses Bid to Trademark 'The'

Patent office says it 'didn't function as a trademark'
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 12, 2019 1:34 AM CDT
Pedestrians pass through Ohio State University's student union in Columbus, Ohio.   (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
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(Newser) – Ohio State University has lost its bid to trademark the most common word in the English language. The United States Patent Office has turned down an application from Ohio State—which likes to be referred to as "The Ohio State University"—to trademark the word "the" for use on T-shirts, hats, and other Buckeyes merchandise, CBS reports. "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 trademark office said in its decision. The university said that the trademark would only apply when "the" was used in ways that "clearly signify association" with Ohio State.

Trademark attorney Josh Gerben noted that not only did the application have "issues," the Marc Jacobs apparel company applied to patent the word months earlier and won preliminary approval. Ohio State—which submitted images of shirts and hats with the single word "THE" on them as part of its application—said it is "reviewing its options" after the "non-final" decision, which it has six months to respond to. Sports fans have often mocked the university's use of "the" in front of its name, calling it "arrogant" and "pretentious," NBC reports. The Columbus Dispatch notes that Ohio State has had trademark problems in the past: In 2017, it applied to trademark "OSU," but agreed to share the acronym after Oklahoma State University objected. (Read more Ohio State University stories.)

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