The Ohio State University can’t trademark the word “the” just yet, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled on Wednesday.
The school submitted a trademark application last month, requesting a standard character trademark for the title “The Ohio State University,” which would be emblazoned on T-shirts, baseball caps and hats.
A Nonfinal Office Action notice from the federal office found Ohio State’s application was lacking on two fronts. First, the university filed its trademark application two months after clothing company Marc Jacobs itself tried to trademark the word “The.”
Marc Jacobs' application, however, was declined as well. Attorneys found their use of "The" failed to distinguish the company's goods and thus didn't qualify as a trademark.
Attorneys found a similar problem with Ohio State’s "The." In their letter, attorneys said Ohio State's design was “merely a decorative or ornamental feature” and therefore didn't function as a trademark.
“In this case, the submitted specimen shows the applied-for mark, THE, located directly on the upper-center area of the front of the shirt and the front portion of the hat, where ornamental elements often appear,” the response reads. “Furthermore, the mark is displayed in a relatively large size on the clothing such that it dominates the overall appearance of the goods. As such, 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.”
Ohio State still has a chance to solve that problem, however, by submitting different clothing designs showing proper trademark usage.
In a statement, the university says receiving such a rejection is not unusual in the trademark process.
"We are reviewing our opions and have six months to respond," said university spokesman Ben Johnson.
The school has secured plenty of other trademarks, including names of football coaches Woody Hayes and Urban Meyer.
An Ohio State spokesman said last fall that the university had 150 trademarks in 17 countries and other applications pending.