Trademarks and Football—The War Of Words

Wednesday, August 28th, 2019

By Mark Zietlow

The college football season is one of the most intense times of the year.  WebMD concluded that it’s a statistical fact heart attacks skyrocket during big games.  The Big Ten has the most heated rivalries, according to a survey conducted in our office, so we’re definitely at risk!

A lot happens before the teams even hit the field.  Much of the preparation is behind the scenes and off the field.


For example, on August 8, 2019, The Ohio State University (OSU) filed an application to register the word “THE” with the federal Trademark Office.  The word “THE” is the most commonly used word in the English language.


OSU wants to prevent others from using “THE” in ways that appear to associate another retailer’s products with OSU and its brand.  For example, OSU does not want retailers to use “THE” on a scarlet and grey T-shirt.


Some believe the University of Michigan (UM) will join the battle off the field.  It is rumored that UM may now try to trademark the word “OF.”  If so, that would limit use on apparel of two of the most common words in the English language—THE and OF.


OSU owns at least 125 trademark registrations.  UM owns at least 75 trademark registrations.  Despite the numerical disadvantage, UM still claims supremacy with its “Hail to the Victors” trademark registration.  Or, will this now be another trademark battle since “Hail to the Victors” contains the word “THE” that OSU is claiming ownership of in its new application?

The takeaway from this is that trademarks are intellectual property assets.  Intellectual property assets can add significant value to the company—even over $1,000,000.  In fact, with web-based storefronts, trademarks and copyrights may be the most significant value the company possesses.

Trademark laws protect the value of the trademark’s good will, investment, advertising and merchandising.  Federal registration establishes a presumption of validity of ownership, and the exclusive right to use the registered mark in commerce in connection with the merchandise identified in the registration.  The owner of a trademark may obtain an injunction preventing infringers from using confusingly similar marks.

Please contact our office if you would like more information about trademarks and copyrights.  Beware, we have a heated rivalry within our office, so calling or emailing is best.

“Watching Football Can Be Deadly,” Daniel J. DeNoon, WebMD, September 5, 2003


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Image: “Football Player” under Public Domain License.

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