Trademarks are often a messy business, especially in sports. For every Trust The Process associated with the Philadelphia 76ers there’s a team saying “The Process” is their own.
Then there’s all the messiness that comes with the 12th Man. It’s on the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame and the Seattle Seahawks raise a flag of in honor of its fans, but Texas A+M desperately wants to litigate the copyright of that concept. A lot of messiness comes with copyright claims, and a number of teams may think they have a thing that’s all their own only to see other teams have that same feature.
One of those things in college football is the use of “the” before the team name. Ohio State University does it, much to the chagrin of Hurricanes fans in Miami, who often see “The U” all over merchandise the team sells. And apparently, the Buckeyes want to make sure they lock down the use of “THE” by applying for a copyright for the word.
Copyright lawyer Josh Gerbin of Gerbin Law Firm pointed out the filing on Twitter on Tuesday, which was actually submitted on August 8. And a quick search of the U.S. government’s Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) does, indeed, show a copyright filing for “the.”
The filing for, yes, THE, is for “Clothing, namely, t-shirts, baseball caps and hats.” Ohio State’s argument for the trademark is that it already uses THE on clothing — it actually submitted evidence of a shirt and hat with the word on it. But, well, that’s not really how trademarks work, especially for a word as common as “the.” It was, for example, basically impossible to write a headline about copywriting “the” without using it once before, let alone writing this sentence.
As Gerbin predicts, it will be hard for Ohio State to get approval for the trademark on its first try given that it’s not actually using it as a trademarked phrase. But perhaps they’ll refine their filing and be more specific about the way it’s using THE in the future. Right now, it’s unlikely to be good enough.