The Battle of 'Ohio' becomes trademark feud

The Athens News illustrated the intrastate fued with this cartoon Jan. 5.
Illustrati on: Millard W. Draudt

"Ohio University, Ohio State Battle Over Name," said the headline in the Miami Herald. Between October and March, scores of stories appeared in newspapers and magazines across the country on the dispute, including Sports Illustrated, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Wall Street Journal, The Baltimore Sun, The Christian Science Monitor and The Denver Post.

On Dec. 16, Ohio State University filed a petition with the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office to cancel Ohio University's trademark of "Ohio." The trademark, which was granted by the federal trademark office in 1995, applies to what is called a "secondary use" -- a use limited to university athletic events, entertainment and apparel.

In an op-ed run by The Dayton Daily News and The (Toledo) Blade, Ohio University Vice President for University Relations Adrie Nab said: "CNN, ESPN, the wire services, USA Today and most other nation al media refer in sports stories to Ohio University as 'Ohio,' just as they call Indiana University 'Indiana,' just as they call the University of Michigan 'Michigan.' The University of Michigan has a trademark for 'Michigan.' Indiana holds a trademark for 'Indiana.' Why shouldn't Ohio University hold a trademark for 'Ohio'?"

Ohio University President Robert Glidden noted that the issue is not trivial. "There is a simple principle here. We want to be able to sell 'Ohio' sweat shirts and ca ps and to have our athletic teams recognized as 'Ohio' -- that's our name," Glidden said. "Trademarks are concerned only with secondary meaning of a word. For both 'Ohio' and 'Buckeyes,' the trademarks held by our universities apply only to athletic events and apparel."

Nationwide sales of college paraphernalia totals $2.5 billion annually in revenue. Ohio State's trade-mark licensing revenue this year is about $2 million; Ohio University's trademark royalty revenue is just over $100,000 with mo re than half of the income generated from its key trademark, "Ohio."

Prior to Ohio State's challenge, representatives of Ohio University proposed a joint use agreement that acknowledged some historical uses of "Ohio" by Ohio State, including the band's Script Ohio formation and the name Ohio Stadium. Ohio State rejected the agreement in December.

On Feb. 17, Ohio University filed a response to Ohio State's combined complaint to cancel and oppose the Ohio University trademark. Both sides ar e engaged in a legal "discovery process," and within 18 to 30 months the issue is expected to be brought before the federal Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.


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