Ohio State’s bid to corner the word “the” on merchandise it markets to fans and supporters continued with a new federal filing on Wednesday, in response to a trademark rejection letter last fall and a fashion designer’s similar bid to continue to gain a trademark.
Ohio State University continued its pursuit to trademark the word “the” in a filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office just hours before the expiration of a six-month deadline to prove that consumers associate the word with the university.
The office had rejected the university’s trademark application in September, saying the word “the” on clothing and items marketed by the university “is merely a decorative or ornamental feature” and didn’t function as a trademark to “identify and distinguish applicant’s clothing from others.”
Both university filings have followed similar filings to lock in the word “the” as a trademark by American fashion designer Marc Jacobs, whose first attempt was similarly rejected but who has since filed again in a bid to prove his case.
Ohio State described the Wednesday legal move as “a defensive action” related to Jacobs, whose applications and clothing using the word signal “a potential encroachment on the established use of ‘THE’ by Ohio State,” the university said in a written statement.
The university released a photo of a model wearing a red Marc Jacobs woman’s sweater with “THE” written across the front in large black letters.
“Like other institutions, Ohio State works to protect the university’s brand and trademarks because these assets hold significant value, which benefits our students and faculty and the broader community by supporting our core academic mission of teaching and research,” the university said.
Trademark and licensing generate about $15 million each year, it said. As of late 2018, Ohio State had roughly 150 patents in 17 countries, plus other pending applications.
Ohio State projected in its application widespread use of the trademark covering everything from backpacks, purses and credit-card cases to clothing items, including jerseys, sweaters and underwear.
“This application has issues out of the gate,” a trademark lawyer, Josh Gerben, told CNN in August 2019, about Ohio State’s attempt to corner the word. “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.”