(Bloomberg) -- Ohio State University — or rather, The Ohio State University — has officially won trademark rights to one of the most common words in the English language: “THE.”
The school gained permission to use “THE” by itself on all apparel available “through channels customary to the field of sports and collegiate athletics,” the US Patent and Trademark Office said this week. Ohio State can include “THE” as the sole design on a shirt or hat, but the trademark symbol must still be visible on a tag or label.
The word — considered an article in English — is important to the school and its sports teams known as the Buckeyes. It appears on the university seal and the word is welded in front of the school’s name when spoken as a badge of honor among its students, alumni in pro sports and other collegiate cognoscenti.
Ohio State took legal action to protect “the” after fashion designer Marc Jacobs applied to trademark the word on a sweater in May 2019. The school’s initial attempt to trademark the word, which has served as a tagline on its apparel for the last 15 years, was rejected in September 2019. The Trademark office cited it as “merely… ornamental,” and pointed to the Marc Jacobs filing months before. Last August, the college was rebuffed once more, and the school and fashion house reached a settlement agreement.
The move has gained attention beyond campus and alumni, including from the nationally syndicated game show “Jeopardy!.” In an episode last year, contestant Courtney Shah clinched her seven-day streak after responding, “What is The Ohio State University?” when asked to identify the the public university that filed a motion to trademark “the” on apparel.
Trademarks are big business for Ohio State. To date, the university’s licensing program has generated over $130 million in royalty revenue from approximately $1.3 billion in licensed retail sales, according to its website.
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