The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has turned down The Ohio State University’s request to trademark “the” in conjunction with the school's name on items marketed for sale such as T-shirts, baseball caps and hats.
The Columbus Dispatch reports that the patent office ruled that "the applied-for mark appears to be used in a merely decorative manner that would be perceived by consumers as having little or no particular source-identifying significance.
As part of its request, Ohio State submitted a shirt with a large THE on the upper center part of the shirt and hat with THE on front, according to the patent office documents.
“Registration is refused because the applied-for mark as used on the specimen of record is merely a decorative or ornamental feature of applicant’s clothing and, thus, does not function as a trademark to indicate the source of applicant’s clothing and to identify and distinguish applicant’s clothing from others,” the office said.
The office gave Ohio State several ways to remedy the situation, including “proof that applicant’s extensive use and promotion of the mark allowed consumers now directly to associate the mark with applicant as the source of the goods.”
Ohio State acknowledged the patent office’s rejection and said it wasn’t unusual.
“We are reviewing our options and have six months to respond,” the university said.
Ohio State submitted the application for the trademark last month, projecting widespread use of the trademark.
The university has had disputes over trademarks in the past. In February 2017, Ohio State sought to trademark the acronym OSU on clothing and apparel.
Oklahoma State University, which also goes by the acronym OSU, objected. Eventually, the two schools signed an agreement that allows both to use the acronym on a national basis.