Ohio State has submitted an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to claim one of the most common words in the English language all for itself.
An application for “the” was sent to the office on Aug. 8 on behalf of the school, whose fans are constantly reminding people to call it THE Ohio State University.
The school already features the word on some of its athletic apparel, and it’s evidently very proud to be defined by literally the most frequently used word we have, according to the Corpus of Contemporary American English, which tracks these things.
An Ohio State spokesman told HuffPost the university, like others, works to protect its brand image “because these assets hold significant value, which benefits our students and faculty and the broader community by supporting our core academic mission of teaching and research.”
A Washington trademark attorney, Josh Gerben, was first to bring attention to the school’s application over Twitter, where both “the” and “Ohio State University” became trending topics on Wednesday.
“Now, my prediction here is this application has issues out of the gate,” Gerben said in a video analysis on the proposal.
“In order for a trademark to be registered for a brand of clothing, the trademark must be used in a trademark fashion ― in other words, it has to be used on tagging or labelling for the products,” he said. “In this case, just putting the word ‘the’ on the front of a hat or the front of a shirt is not sufficient trademark use.”
The trademark office will probably turn down Ohio State’s application, Gerben predicted, giving its attorneys a chance to gather better examples to make its case.
“It’s a little surprising that the university would not have been a little bit more sophisticated in the specimens that they submitted with their applications here,” Gerben said. “It’s sort of Trademarks 101.”
A tip for Ohio State: If your school’s name was in a better order, a la the University of Michigan, this might not be such a sore point.
This article has been updated with a comment from Ohio State.