"The" Ohio State Tries to Trademark the Word "THE"

August 15, 2019
Post by Sarah M. Luth

On August 8, 2019 The Ohio State University filed a trademark application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for the word mark “THE” to be used in connection with clothing, namely “t-shirts, baseball caps and hats.” Unlike Ohio State’s other trademark applications, which cover the phrase “The Ohio State University” as a whole, the August 2019 application covers only the word “THE.”

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol and/or design that identifies the source of goods or services and distinguishes the goods or services from those of others. A registered trademark must be distinctive, i.e. it may not be simply descriptive of traits or qualities of the goods/services. The public policy rationale against descriptive marks is that others in the industry should not be excluded from using descriptive terms to advertise for their own goods. For example, a trademark should not be granted for the word “ice cream” in connection with an ice cream shop, as others who sell ice cream would not be able to describe their product without trademark infringement.

In the case of The Ohio State University, it appears Ohio State sells apparel featuring simply the word “THE,” for example a t-shirt with the word “THE” printed in Ohio State colors. The word “THE” has historical significance for The Ohio State University. According to the University archives, in the mid-1980s, there was an attempt to move away from an “OSU” identifier in order to “reflect the national stature of the institution." University officials wanted the institution to be known as ‘The Ohio State University’ again since OSU could also mean Oregon State and Oklahoma State University. According to legend, “'The' was used to show the other colleges which institution was supposed to be the leader in the state - both in size and in financial support from the legislature.”

It may not be common to print apparel featuring only the word “THE.” However, “the” is one of the most commonly used words in the English language and it is frequently used in connection with other text on apparel (for example, here, here, and here). In order to obtain a trademark, The Ohio State will need to make a strong showing of secondary meaning, and demonstrate that the mark “THE” is distinctive in connection with apparel.


Sarah M. Dickhut is an Associate Attorney in the Biotechnology & Chemical Patent Practice Group at McKee, Voorhees & Sease. For additional information, please visit or contact Sarah directly via email at


Post Categories

Comments (0)
Post a Comment

Captcha Image
Return to the Filewrapper Blog

Search Posts


The attorneys of McKee, Voorhees & Sease, P.L.C. designed this blog as an informational and educational resource about intellectual property law for our clients, other attorneys, and the public as a whole. Our goal is to provide cutting-edge information about recent developments in intellectual property law, including relevant case law updates, proposed legislation, and intellectual property law in the news.


McKee, Voorhees & Sease, P.L.C. provides this blog for general informational purposes only. By using this blog, you agree that the information on this blog does not constitute legal or other professional advice and no attorney-client or other relationship is created between you and McKee, Voorhees & Sease, P.L.C. Do not consider this blog to be a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a qualified, licensed attorney. While we try to revise this blog on a regular basis, it may not reflect the most current legal developments. We consciously refrain from expressing opinions on this blog and instead, offer it as a form of information and education, however if there appears an expression of opinion, realize that those views are indicative of the individual and not of the firm as a whole.

Connect with MVS

Enter your name and email address to recieve the latest news and updates from us and our attorneys.

Subscribe to: MVS Newsletter

Subscribe to: Filewrapper® Blog Updates

  I have read and agree to the terms and conditions of McKee, Voorhees & Sease, P.L.C.