University Attempts to Trademark THE Most Common Word

In other news, The Ohio State University has recently filed a trademark application, No. 88571984, with the United States Patent and Trademark Office on August 8, 2019. The reason this story has received special notice is for the content of the application. Ohio State’s application is a trademark for the word “The.” Yes, “the”.  Did we mention they’re trademarking the word “the”?  The.  Did we just infringe their rights?  The word “The” is perhaps THE most commonly used word in THE English language which leads to some apprehension about whether this trademark application will be accepted and registered.

The Ohio State University has started a new line of “The” clothing with the word stamped across the front of it. In order for this application to succeed the word “The” must be shown to be used in trademark fashion which means it must be used to label and identify products. Simply writing the word on the front of clothing likely does not reach this bar. The school will have to show that the use of the word “The” clearly signifies an association with Ohio State University and its brand. Given that many other brands (and universities, e.g., The George Washington University in Washington, DC) also include the word “The” in their trademark applications, Ohio State’s potential trademark seems relatively weak, if they ever get it. While we likely will not track this application throughout its entire life-cycle, it nevertheless is an interesting example of a less-ordinary trademark and an example of companies pushing the boundaries of trademark protection!