In August 2019, The Ohio State University filed to register THE as a trademark for T-shirts & hats.

The pundits went wild. “How can someone own the word THE?” they asked. Actually, there’s no reason why someone can’t have THE as a registered trademark. If The Ohio State University has THE as a trademark, that doesn’t mean people can’t use the word “the” or have the word “the” as part of another trademark.

In September 2019 one of those pundits gloated when the Trademark Office rejected the application filed by The Ohio State University. “Ha, ha, Ohio State. We told you you can’t do that!”

But the Trademark Office’s objections had nothing to do with the issues raised by the snickering hoards and, in fact, it kinda shows that the snickering hoards are 100% wrong.

The big issue raised by the Trademark Office is the fact that Marc Jacobs already has a pending application for THE for clothing. So it’s not that The Ohio State University can’t register THE for hats and T-shits, it’s that Marc Jacobs is ahead in line.

I predict that the Marc Jacobs application won’t make it to registration because the specimens submitted by Marc Jacobs aren’t acceptable. I also predict The Ohio State University’s application will register.

UPDATE April 28, 2021: Marc Jacobs’s application to register THE was able to move forward. The Ohio State University filed an opposition to the MJ application. The opposition is suspended while Ohio State and MJ try to work things out. On April 14, MJ amended its application to include this phrase: “all of the foregoing being promoted, distributed, and sold through channels customary to the field of contemporary fashion.” That sounds like Ohio State and MJ are working on a deal that limits the use of THE on clothing to certain channels of trade.

UPDATE May 31, 2022: Both sides ended up opposing the other’s application. Both oppositions have now been dismissed, presumably because the two sides settled based on a limitation of the type of goods being sold. Marc Jacobs’s application to register THE will become a registration as soon as they can show actual use on the goods. Ohio State has completed all the steps to getting its registration and it’s now just a matter of time.