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Rick Steelhammer: Patent office bats down Ohio State bid to trademark the word "THE"

Although I once worked several months for a scholarly publication produced on the campus of Ohio State University, I never became a fan of its athletic program.

In fact, I knew so little about the Buckeye football team that I drew a blank when my employer asked my opinion of Woody Hayes during my job interview. I responded by saying I didn’t know the guy, whom I’d assumed to be some sort of literary figure I had never encountered.

My not knowing the identity of the university’s winningest coach helped me land the lofty position of proofreader at the magazine, where the senior staff resented the high level of support and high salary Hayes received from the university.

Official signs at the many entrances to the campus made it clear that the college’s full name was The Ohio State University, though no one made a big deal of the fact, or, to my knowledge, went around calling it “the” Ohio State.

That situation has changed dramatically since I said goodbye, Columbus.

Last month, the college filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to trademark the word “THE,” as in “The Ohio State University,” in capital letters.

Making it mandatory to insert the word “THE” in front of its name was seen as pretentious by several of the Columbus university’s contemporaries. Its athletic rival to the north, in Ann Arbor, responded on Twitter by threatening to trademark the “OF” in the University of Michigan. Ohio University, founded 64 years before THE Ohio State, when the Columbus institution of higher learning was known as Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College, Tweeted its greeting “from THE oldest University in Ohio.”

Last week, the Patent and Trademark Office denied Ohio State’s application, which would have given it exclusive rights to follow through with plans to print the word “THE” in large letters atop a small university logo, on T-shirts and caps.

OSU — or should I say THE OSU — already has the commercial rights to Woody Hayes’ image and voice. Maybe that should be enough.

At least they’re not still in limbo. For instance, Syracuse University apparently still awaits a decision on its 2006 application to trademark the color orange.

I wouldn’t hold my breath on that decision until the outcome of the 2020 presidential election is decided, and energy inefficient light bulbs are banned again.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at, 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

Funerals for Sunday, November 17, 2019

Ellis, Walter - 1 p.m., West Logan Missionary Baptist Church.

Evans, Robert - 2 p.m., Koontz Funeral Home, Hamlin.

Hess, Steven - 6 p.m., Grace Church of the Nazarene, South Charleston.

Holmes, Buddy - 2 p.m., Elizabeth Baptist Church, Charleston.

Jeffrey Jr., Algie - 2 p.m., Stevens Chapel Methodist Church, Lake.

Mace, Elma - 2 p.m., Stump Funeral Home & Cremation Inc., Arnoldsburg.

Meadows II, Richard - 2 p.m., Central Christian Church, Huntington.

Messinger, John - 2 p.m., Davis Funeral Home, Clarksburg.

Reynolds, Gladys - 1 p.m., Taylor-Vandale Funeral Home, Spencer.

Smith, Rosie - 2 p.m., Morris Funeral Home, Cowen.

Sykes, Teresa - 2 p.m., Winfield Church of the Nazarene.