Trademarks aren't limited to full brand names. Companies have successfully won ownership of everything from the sound of a duck quacking to a specific shade of blue. A recent decision by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office shows brands can go so for as to claim the most common words in the English language. As AP reports, The Ohio State University has successfully trademarked the word the in its name.
According to the case made by Ohio State, the article in front of the name is integral to the university's branding. Products bearing the school's title generate over $12.5 million each year, helping fund programs and scholarships for students.
Three-letter names are the norm among state universities, and the the in Ohio State's title helps it stand out from the crowd. The school added the determiner in 1986 in an effort to differentiate its logo from those of Oregon State University and Oklahoma State University. That distinction has become part of the institution's identity, with players from the school's football team going out of their way to emphasize it when introducing themselves. Some cheeky Ohio State apparel only says THE in bold lettering, dropping the rest of the title altogether.
Ohio State has been fighting to claim the since 2019, when Marc Jacobs filed an application to trademark it. (The fashion company also design shirts with just the word the on them.) The two parties reached an agreement in 2021 that allowed them both to use the word to promote their respective brands. Now, following approval from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday, June 21, The Ohio State University has officially registered a trademark for the first part of its name.
No matter what you're talking about, you may be using trademarked words in your everyday speech without realizing it. Check out these common words that started as brand names.