Ohio State’s biggest obstacle is Oklahoma State. No, I’m not talking about the upcoming college football national championship race. We’re talking about a legal battle for the ages. Get ready for a good old-fashioned trademark battle.
Our story begins with Ohio State University filing an application to the United States Patent and Trademark Office with the intent to trademark “OSU.” There is just one problem. Oklahoma State also refers to itself as “OSU.” Oklahoma State has, according to The Columbus Dispatch, issued a formal challenge by submitting an extension with the intent of opposing the trademark request.
Oklahoma State now has until the end of August to present its case for objecting Ohio State’s trademark request. Fortunately, the odds are probably pretty decent the two schools will manage to move forward without things getting too testy. Both Ohio State and Oklahoma State have had their own trademarks to “OSU” in use for the better part of the past two decades, with each having trademarks protecting within their various geographical footprints.
This also includes Oregon State, who has a stranglehold on the “OSU” branding out west. The only state where Ohio State and Oklahoma State seem to overlap is in Iowa, with a pretty solid divide through the state that is home to a Big Ten (Iowa) and Big 12 (Iowa State) school.
From The Columbus Dispatch;
Ohio State’s trademark covers 19 states—mostly in the Midwest and on the east coast. Oklahoma State’s trademark covers 17 western and southern states.
Then there’s Iowa, where those three little letters create a battle line of sorts. The state is split nearly down the middle, with Oklahoma State’s trademark applying to 54 western counties and Ohio State’s applying to 45 eastern ones.
In the end, this will likely pass over without much of an issue. Ohio State will likely get to keep protecting its OSU branding in its region and Oklahoma State in their region. But these are the types of issues lawyers get in a frenzy over.
Schools having similar initials has led to many debates over the years. Another debate revolves around which school gets to be referred to as USC; Southern California or South Carolina? Both the Trojans and Gamecocks call themselves USC, but unlike Ohio State and Oklahoma State, there is quite a gap between the main regions both schools play so there is hardly ever a real conflict to resolve.
And trademark issues have long been a part of the evolving world of college football branding. In the 1990s, Clemson took efforts to trademark the signature tiger paw logo, featuring four toe prints. That led schools like Penn State to adapt their similar logo, with Penn State adding a fifth toe to its paw print logo and later restyling the lion footprint logo entirely.
Rather than hash this out in a court or at a negotiating table, I have a better idea. A full school vs. school athletic competition to determine once and for all which school shall retain the rights to being known as “OSU.” Home-and-home deals in football, basketball, and any other sports operated by both schools. Whichever schools has the higher winning percentage of the two gets to be called “OSU” for good.
Winner gets Oregon State.