Ohio State's trademark application for 'The' still has life

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office might be the only one able to beat Ohio State this year, this as the university’s application to trademark the word “The” was denied on Wednesday.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) denied Ohio State’s very narrow application to trademark “The” before the name of the university in apparel and merchandise sales. For years, Ohio State has been casually referred to as “The Ohio State University” during player introductions on national NFL broadcasts, spawning a bit of a movement that was embraced by fans and the athletic department itself. The inclusion of the article before the name of the university was always mocked a bit but beloved by Buckeye Nation.

Josh Gerben, a trademark attorney who has been the representative in over 4,000 trademark cases, says that the USPTO’s denial of the application is clear and straight forward.

“First, the clothing company Marc Jacobs filed an application for ‘The’ that predates Ohio State's filing. If the Marc Jacobs application would ultimately register, the [Patent and Trademark Office] found it would likely block Ohio State's application,” Gerben told FOX Business.

“Second, the [Patent and Trademark Office] noted that Ohio State was not using the word ‘The’ as a trademark. In other words, Ohio State is not using the word ‘The’ as a brand. It is only using the word ‘The’ in an ornamental fashion across the front of a shirt and hat."

The university has had success with other, quirky trademarks over the years. Past Ohio State head coaches such as Urban Meyer and Woody Hayes have had their names trademarked.

Trademarking of the word "The" was to extend only to things such as apparel sales and other retail merchandise. It wasn’t a carte blanche trademark of the word in all circumstances in perpetuity.

But just because Wednesday’s ruling was setback doesn’t mean that Ohio State can’t – and won’t – proceed in their trademark application for this specific word. Gerben sees them being able to move forward and possibly pass the trademark.

"The" Ohio State University is very much alive. (Trademark pending).

“The university's application is still very much alive. At this point they could work to develop better labels and tags for the clothing items,” Gerben said.

“This would help the university get around the portion of the refusal about not having proper ‘trademark use’ of the word ‘The.’ Also, the trademark application filed by Marc Jacobs is having its own issues – the [Patent and Trademark Office] found that Marc Jacobs not properly using the word ‘The’ on its clothing items either. Therefore, if the Marc Jacobs application does not get approved, and, the university reworks its labeling for the shirts and hats, it is very possible the [Patent and Trademark Office] could still approve this trademark for registration.”