From “The Shoe” to the name of the iconic football coach Woody Hayes, Ohio State has demonstrated its willingness to trademark phrases, places and names related to the university. Now, it’s looking to trademark The Oval, the recognizable green space at the center of campus.
The University Trademark and Licensing Services filed on Feb. 9 for a trademark protection regarding the use of The Oval as a name and image – though not the shape – to be branded and reproduced, primarily for the use of apparel and clothing.
While the university has already been making T-shirts and hats with “The Oval” emblazoned on it, a trademark will add a layer of protection and allow the university to seek damages against those that use “The Oval” without license approval, said Rick Van Brimmer, director of OSU’s Trademark and Licensing Services.
“In this day and age, as printing and manufacturing is getting easier and easier for anybody to do, we just think it’s necessary to add those extra layers of protection,” he said.
In an effort to protect and enforce its brand, the university has sent more than 100 cease-and-desist letters to various businesses for various alleged copyright and trademark infringements over the past four years, according to university records.
The university has a longstanding practice of trademarking terms and traditions associated with OSU and making sure it has the exclusive right to license and, in turn, make money from such trademarks. According to its website, OSU has made $161 million in royalty revenue from $3.25 billion in licensed retail sales to date.
OSU officially started filing for trademarks and licensing in 1974, and took another step in 1982 when the Office of Trademark and Licensing Services was created. It started with popular OSU symbols including Brutus Buckeye, Script Ohio, Gold Pants and Block ‘O’, eventually making them exclusive property of the university. Since then, the university has broadened its trademark footprint to include dozens of slogans, images and traditions that represent the OSU brand.
The Oval has remained relatively unchanged for almost a hundred years, even as the rest of the surrounding area goes through image-changing overhauls such as the newly completed North Residential District and the ongoing Framework 2.0 projects on campus and the 15th and High project underway off campus.
OSU was recently in a legal battle with a Cincinnati casino previously named Horseshoe Cincinnati, which had a concert venue named The Shoe — before it was bought by Rock Gaming and renamed.
Just last year, OSU signed a 15-year, $252 million deal with Nike to license its logo for all apparel and clothing, believed to be the biggest collegiate apparel contract in the country at the time, outpacing contracts awarded to Texas and Michigan.
Steven Swartz, owner of BuckeyeFanApparel.com, said the huge licensing contracts are one of the reasons why T-shirts and fan gear are so expensive these days.
“(OSU has) gone around and gotten rid of street vendors who don’t have licenses,” Swartz said. “If you don’t have a contract, you can’t sell it, and they will make sure of it.”
Van Brimmer said the money from trademarks and licensing is going back to the students.
“We have certain brand-protection exercises that we need to do to make sure that our brand is presented the way we want it to be,” he said. “In our case, it’s not only reputational. Our licensing program provides a significant revenue stream in support of the students here.”
Van Brimmer said protecting the OSU brand and licensing contracts already in place is a way of making sure that money ultimately gets back to the students, though he did not provide specific ways in which that took place.