Bridge in Ohio

Ohio State University secures US trademark for the

By James Wan

What you need to know (in a nutshell)

  1. Ohio State University has won a trademark for the word “THE” after a three-year legal battle with fashion designer Marc Jacobs, who had also filed to trademark the same word.
  2. The university will use the trademark for branded products associated with the school, which will be sold through its athletics and collegiate channels. The revenue generated by the trademark and licensing program, which averages more than $12.5 million annually, provides funding for university programs and student scholarships.
  3. The university’s use of “THE” with its name dates back to 1986, when it introduced a new logo to distinguish itself from other schools with similar initials. The trend of emphasising the word took off in the mid-1990s when football players began using it while introducing themselves. The movement grew into a meme, with OSU alums highlighting they were from ”THE Ohio State University.

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In the culmination of a protracted legal tussle, Ohio State University has triumphed in its pursuit to register the trademark for “THE,” a word emblematic of the school’s identity. Through its athletic and collegiate channels, the university will utilise this mark on branded products linked to OSU, with proceeds from these items supporting student scholarships, libraries, and other university initiatives. The campaign was sparked by fashion designer Marc Jacobs filing his application in 2019 to register “THE” as a trademark, prompting a surge of support from Buckeye fans rallying around Ohio State University’s cause. Ben Johnson commented on the development: “Ohioans take great pride in our state’s universities, so it’s understandable why there would be such passionate support.” The outcome is the successful registration of THE as an official Ohio State University brand mark.

In 2020, Ohio State University and the designer arrived at a mutually beneficial agreement permitting both parties to register “THE” branded products for ongoing use and licensing. This effort is part of the university’s endeavour to safeguard its brand name, trademarks, and logos. These assets confer significant benefits to students and faculty members while supporting their core academic mission related to teaching and research. Each year, the trademark program generates an average revenue exceeding $12.5 million, which is directed towards providing scholarships for students and financing various programs within the institution. The decision to use ‘The’ alongside its acronym OSU dates back to 1986 when it was first introduced, along with its new logo, to distinguish itself from other universities, such as Oregon State University and Oklahoma State University, which share the same initials (OSU).

In the mid-1990s, Ohio State University encouraged its football players to incorporate “the” when introducing themselves, and this trend of emphasising the word quickly gained traction. The meme later featured on NFL broadcasts that aired clips of athletes announcing their names and university affiliations, emphasising “THE Ohio State University.” Even Saturday Night Live would later parody this distinctive introduction style employed by OSU alumni.