Well, they did it! Back in 2019, The Ohio State University was the object of ridicule after trying and failing to get a trademark for putting the word “the” on front of a T-shirt.
The reason that they failed was not because “the” is the most common word used in the English language. No, that would be too obvious. The reason it failed was first because designer Marc Jacobs had already filed a trademark application for the word “the” on apparel. And it also failed because the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office said that the use of the word “the” on a T-shirt is just merely ornamental. In other words, it doesn’t identify the source of the T-shirt in the same way that, say finding a little alligator on the breast pocket of a shirt would identify the source of that apparel as an Izod.
But last year, Marc Jacobs and The Ohio State University came to an agreement where they both could use the word “the.” And just now, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been convinced by The Ohio State University that the word “the” is so associated with the university that not giving them the trademark would actually hurt their brand. So the victory and the trademark goes to The Ohio State University.