Competition to attract students and their tuition dollars is fierce among the nation’s institutions of higher learning, prompting a number of universities to trademark their high-minded marketing taglines.
For example, the University of Virginia sought and received federal trademark protection for its slogan, “imagination beyond measure.”
In the same vein, East Carolina University has trademarked “tomorrow starts here,” while Marquette University holds the trademark for “be the difference.”
Last week, the Ohio State University was granted trademark rights to “THE,” the most frequently used word in the English language — including four appearances in this sentence alone.
It took three years of legal maneuvering for the Buckeye Nation to get its grip on the all-caps version of the oft-used article. According to the university’s library, institutional officials in 1986 began using a logo using the words “The Ohio State University” instead of the “OSU” symbol that had been in use since 1977.
Since OSU was also used to identify Oklahoma State University and Oregon State University, the switch to “The Ohio State University” was intended to end any confusion over the acronym and was believed to “reflect the national stature” of the Columbus campus.
Placing emphasis on the word ‘the’ in the university’s title became a thing in the 1990s after Buckeye athletes were asked to include the word while introducing themselves and their collegiate affiliation in media appearances. Former Ohio State players who went on to the National Football League emphasized that they were alumni of “THE Ohio State University” in pre-game introductions, creating a trend that prompted use of the capitalized “THE” for the trademark.
The Ohio State University has been the institution’s official name since 1878, when its former title, Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College, was dropped.
Fortunately, Ohio State’s trademark rights to the word “THE” only cover its use on branded clothing items, like T-shirts and caps sold by the university. The rights don’t extend to the word’s use in conversation or writing.
Renewed emphasis on the ‘the’ in the university’s title in recent decades did not apparently accomplish all that had been hoped. In 2017, The Ohio State University filed for federal trademark rights to another three-letter arrangement: OSU.
While Oregon State had reached an agreement with Ohio State allowing co-use of the initials, Oklahoma State had not, and filed an objection with federal trademark officials. A few months later, a similar co-use agreement was worked out, and the issue was dropped.
To me, it would have been more fair to let the state universities in Oregon and Oklahoma continue sharing OSU and allow their counterpart in Ohio to make the most of its new registered trademark with an enhanced set of initials.
Why not TOSU?
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