Tackling ‘THE’ trademark: Ohio State’s fight to protect the logos

Tackling THE trademark

Nothing brings more pride to central Ohio than the iconic symbols of The Ohio State University.

But everything from that Block O to Brutus are trademarks, owned by the university, which defends against any unauthorized use.

That means businesses cannot use them unless Ohio State allows it, which usually means applying and paying a fee.

How the cookie crumbles

COOKIESAt Sweet Tooth Cottage in Powell, cookies decorated with Block O, Brutus Buckeye and lots of scarlet and grey were once hot items.

The owner, Sue Bissonnette said the iced icons were popular on Saturdays, "For game day, of course! "

That changed a year ago, when Bissonnette got a “cease and desist” letter from The Ohio State University, stating that selling the scarlet and grey symbols was “unauthorized” and “a violation of state and federal trademark… laws.”

“I stopped immediatedly,” Bissonette said, adding the letter was intimidating, “It scared me, very much so.”


Bouncing THE name

Just a hop and a jump away from Bissonnette’s store, is the “The Bounce Club,” which used to be named, “The Buckeye Bounce Club.”

I loved that name,” owner Trisha Yocom said, “but we were forced to change our name."

Yocom’s reaction was clear, "Shocked! A hundred percent!"

Buckeye was not just a name to Trisha, who was an Ohio State cheerleader for five years.   It was part of who she is and what she had built her children’s activities center around. The university made it clear that the name had to go and so, it went.

"It cost a lot!" Yocom said, adding, she had to remove the “Buckeye” name from “Everything from the rugs to what my staff wears to the business cards to everything we hand out.”

Yocom says the name change cost her tens of thousands of dollars.

Cornhole to costumes

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Yocom and Bissonnette are two of more than 100 business owners who received “cease and desist” letters from Ohio State over the last 2 years.

Click here for the full list

NBC4 requested and received the complete list of businesses which received the letters. They reveal a wide array of logos and trademarks being used for commercial sales and display on everything from the sides of semi trailers to sparkly shoes, ticket giveaways (Disclosure: NBC4 was one of several media outlets which received letters for this) to tavern ads, cornhole games, to costumes. A non-sanctioned “Brutus” was told to hang up the gear.

No bully on High Street

The job of protecting the Buckeyes trademarks belongs to Ohio State Assistant Vice President Rick VanBrimmer.

While VanBrimmer says Ohio State could take many of the businesses to court immediately, he says the university chooses to send the letters.

"Our interest is not being the bully on High Street,” He stated.

Much of the demarcation of trademark territory in strongly-worded letters has to do with the complicated laws behind it.

"As the trademark owner, you have an obligation to protect your trademark,” VanBrimmer explained, adding, “If you don't you can risk losing them. "

Losing any of the Buckeyes trademarks would be costly.   Last year, those trademarks generated a $17 million in revenue, which goes toward funding student scholarships

So, for many business owners like Sue Bissonnette, the Ohio State logos are “no go,” which, she says is just the way the cookie crumbles.

We love the Buckeyes!” Bissonnette said, but added, “The Buckeyes love their logos.”

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