We’ve talked ongoing about how ridiculous and aggressive many universities are becoming on trademark matters. Now colleges and universities do many, many annoying things, but their tendency towards trademark bullying certainly ranks up there near the top of the list. Not as high, of course, as Ohio State’s neverending insistence that everyone call it "THE Ohio State University." The school likes to point out that the "the" (sigh) is actually part of the school’s legal name, when the reality is that the school is simply being haughty and pedantic.
Well, now these two worlds are colliding in what might just be the dumbest trademark application I’ve ever seen. You’ll never guess what single word OSU wants to trademark.
Application No. 88571984, filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday, was discovered and publicized Tuesday by Josh Gerben, a prominent trademark lawyer in Washington. The application seeks a trademark on the single word "THE" for use on T-shirts and baseball caps and hats.
For years, the university’s demand that it be called "THE Ohio State University" has rankled sports fans and journalists, who’ve called it "pompous and stupid," "ridiculous" and "arrogant."
Partisans, including the university, point out that "the" is part of its name under state law. And Chris Davey, a spokesman for the university, told The Columbus Dispatch on Tuesday that it’s important to "vigorously protect the university’s brand and trademarks."
This, simply, is absurd. Trademark law is written in such a way to be wide open for abuse, but even this is a bridge further than the law will allow. Trademarks require original identifiers that indicate the source of a good or service and the bar for approval by the Trademark Office goes up the shorter and less original the identifier is. The idea that someone might apply for a trademark on the single most commonly used determiner in the English language is the sort of thing reserved for jokes in our comments section. But THE Ohio State University went ahead and did it anyway.
Other schools took notice, of course, and some of them are having fun at OSU’s expense.
— University of Michigan (@UMich) August 14, 2019
Michigan getting a trademark on the word "of" makes every bit as sense as OSU’s application. Fortunately, despite all of the madness we see from the USPTO on a frequent basis, nobody seems to think this application is going to be approved.
Gerben predicted on Tuesday that Ohio State was "likely to receive an initial refusal of the application."
For a trademark to be registered for a brand of clothing, the trademark "must be used in a trademarked fashion," he said on Twitter. "In other words, it has to be used on tagging or labeling for the products. 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," he said.
That careful analysis is almost certainly correct, but I much prefer to simply point out that this is all very, very crazy and be done with it.
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THE Ohio State University Applies For THE Stupidest Trademark In THE World