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The Ohio State Buckeyes represent one of the biggest powerhouses in college football. They may not be as dominant as Alabama, but it seems like the program is never more than a few years away from being back in the national discussion of the country’s best teams. They’ve won eight national titles after all. 

Ohio State itself has a peculiar way it likes to refer to itself — one that’s common to anyone who attended the school. Recently, the university was embroiled in a legal battle over the name. You won’t believe what the fight was over and how the result will benefit the Buckeyes for years to come.

The reason why Buckeye fans call the school ‘The Ohio State University’

A view of a Ohio State Buckeyes logo on a sideline tent
The Ohio State University logo | Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Most college football fans refer to the school casually as Ohio State. But if you’ve watched coverage of the team on Saturdays or visit the school’s website, you’ve likely seen the name students and graduates like to call it: The Ohio State University. According to the school’s history, this has been the university’s official name since 1878. (Its initial name was the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College.) 

Since then, alumni have proudly used this signifier when mentioning their school. It’s somewhat pompous if you ask Michigan or Penn State fans. However, the moniker has become such an iconic reference that they attempted to trademark a word that otherwise seems impervious to brands. 

Ohio State University attempted to trademark the word ‘The’

According to NPR, in 2019, Ohio State contacted the U.S. Patent and Trade Office in an attempt to trademark the word “The.” The decision came after fashion magnate Marc Jacobs attempted to do the same months prior. 

The USPTO swiftly turned down OSU’s request. It claimed that Ohio State planned to use the trademark as an “ornamental feature” that failed to distinguish the school from other users of the term. 

While it might seem frivolous to an outside observer, it’s anything but to the school’s fan base. They take the name seriously and use it often. The trademark attempt capitalizes on that. It’s akin to the New York Yankees trademarking the term “The Bronx Bombers,” which, according to a, they did in 1998. 

This brief setback may have discouraged other schools, but The Ohio State University soldiered on in its legal struggle. Much like their record on the football field, this tussle ended in victory for the Buckeyes. Eventually, they’ve come out on top in a big way. 

How OSU won its battle for the word ‘The’

In June 2022, OSU succeeded as the USPTO awarded them the trademark. They can now use the term “The” on “branded merchandise” such as athletic wear, t-shirts, and any other OSU gear.

The school’s director for social and media relations, Ben Johnson, discussed the importance of the word “the” to the Ohio State faithful. “THE has been a rallying cry in the Ohio State community for many years,” he said, adding, “Buckeye fans who purchase official Ohio State gear support student scholarships, libraries, and other university initiatives.” 

It’s a shrewd move by the university. OSU fans love to refer to their school by its proper name. Being able to license merchandise with the school’s official title will only improve their already successful apparel sales. Beyond sportswear, the school can stamp its trademarked name on other items, like keychains, flags, and mugs.  

As for the battle with Marc Jacobs, it had a happy ending for all involved groups as well. Eventually, in August 2021, OSU and Jacobs reached an agreement allowing both parties to use the term.