The University of Oklahoma will meet Ohio State on the gridiron in Columbus, Ohio in just a few short weeks. They will seek to avenge last season’s loss and stake an early claim to a playoff spot. It is an opportunity for the Big 12 to push back against its detractors. However, it is not the only battle the fine institutions in the State of Oklahoma will have against the Buckeyes.
It was reported today by the Columbus Dispatch, that Oklahoma State will be taking on Ohio State this season as well – in the legal arena. The point of controversy is an application to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Oklahoma State has informed that Trademark Office that they plan on filing a notice of opposition to Ohio State’s recent request to trademark “OSU”.
It should be no surprise that there would be some clash and controversy over the usage of certain marks and symbols given that Oregon State, Oklahoma State, and Ohio State share the same “OSU” initials. However, it appears that the trademark protections have been governed by concurrent use agreements for many years. This indicates a spirit of cooperation and territorial recognition between the schools. It also celebrates the differences in the unique marks.
I find it interesting that Ohio State would file an application for a mark of this nature without consulting with Oklahoma State and Oregon State for that matter. The mark is a Standard Character mark for the letters “OSU”. A Standard Character mark is broad in its application as it does not claim a specific font style, size, or color. The application leaves out the traditional stylistic components that would be ordinarily associated with one of the universities in question. In essence, it is a blatant intellectual territory grab for base, standard character ownership of “OSU”.
Any trademark claim is designated by its class of goods or services. There are approximately 45 different classes of goods and services that are available for designation of a mark. This allows for a mark to be had in one class and for a similar mark to be had in an unrelated category that has no direct or implied tendency towards confusion. However, once a mark is granted, any infringement can be defended.
The Ohio State mark in question is a class 25 mark which is for clothing, in particular, t-shirts, shirts, hats, and baseball caps. In addition, class 22 (ropes, strings, nets, tents, awnings, tarpaulins, sails, sacks and bags, padding and stuffing, materials, raw fibrous textile materials) and class 39 (transportation and storage) are claimed. The idea there would be the ability to put it on tailgate gear and vehicles like team or university related transportation modes.
Therein lies the threat that is to be answered by Oklahoma State. By allowing Ohio State to commandeer the ability to use “OSU” exclusively on clothing items, Oklahoma State has a lot to lose in the branding and imaging universe. Given that eCommerce expands the reach of any marketing campaigns, it is logical and necessary to oppose any intrusion or limitation on a mark as broadly applicable as “OSU”.
If Ohio State is successful, then agreements can be reached that allow for Oklahoma State and Oregon State to use similar marks. However, Ohio State would have all the leverage in that negotiation and be able to demand higher royalties. Oklahoma State’s opposition will seek to disallow the registration of the mark and bring a more workable agreement to the table.
It may seem petty to fight about such matters, but the law requires your marks be defended and the marketplace requires protection of all possible revenue streams. The university presidents have spoken of cooperation, and I expect a deal to get worked out before the beginning of football season.
The most interesting thing here is to speculate as to why Ohio State would unilaterally file such a mark without simply seeking an amendment to an existing concurrent use agreement? Maybe they did and Oklahoma State told them to pound sand. If so, given the many other protected marks and agreements in place, what is so important about this standard character “OSU” mark?
If Ohio State corners the market and intellectual property rights to “OSU”, then they are not only “The Ohio State University”, they become “THE OSU.” That is a powerful branding tool in a competitive recruiting landscape. Ohio State has expanded its recruiting into Texas and other areas that are traditional hotbeds for Oklahoma State and the Big 12. I have some thought that the Oklahoma series, while logical with Bob Stoops ‘Ohio roots, had a lot to do with exposure in the Oklahoma and Texas recruiting markets. Oklahoma State is a playoff threat and grabbing a portion of their branding and marketing swag would be a nice get for Ohio State.