AKRON, Ohio -- Ohio is worth fighting for. Just ask Ohio State University.
It seems that in 1993, Ohio University crept to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and registered the name "Ohio." That gave Ohio University the exclusive right to use the name commercially in connection with sporting and entertainment events and on licensed merchandise.
"We want to be known as Ohio, and we don't want anyone else to be known as Ohio," John Burns, director of legal affairs for Ohio University, said last week.
Ohio State officials say they knew nothing of their downstate rival's move until last year -- and it came like a blitz from the blind side: Ohio University casually suggested that Ohio State might want to do something about its cheerleaders' uniforms.
You see, they said, the "Ohio" on the shirts is technically a trademark violation.
"I frankly thought it was a joke," said Virginia Trethewey, vice president of legal affairs for Ohio State.
But no one is laughing now in Columbus, where football fans fill Ohio Stadium, watch the marching band form Script Ohio, sing the school's alma mater, "Carmen Ohio," and pull for the home team along with those scofflaw cheerleaders. The school's licensed products include an image of the late Olympic track star Jesse Owens wearing a jersey that says simply Ohio.
The universities are trying to work out their differences. Still, big, proud Ohio State is angry and embarrassed to find itself battling much smaller -- but equally proud -- Ohio University over the issue. After decades of dodging Ohio State's monstrous shadow, Ohio University officials can take sweet revenge knowing they have their counterparts in Columbus muttering a four-letter word.
"We never registered Ohio because, frankly, we never believed it was ours to own, nor was it necessary to have exclusive use of the name of the state," Trethewey said. "For 100 years, it seemed to have worked very well for both of us."
Why, she wonders, didn't Ohio University officials tell Ohio State what they were doing?
In Athens, they wonder why Ohio State would expect them to.
"They may not pay attention down here, but we've had Ohio on our uniforms since 1896," said Ohio University's Burns. "We didn't think we owed them the courtesy of registering our own name."
While the whole situation may smack of ivory tower silliness, a lot is at stake. For one thing, use of "Ohio" on licensed merchandise could means hundreds of thousands of dollars from the sale of sweat shirts, hats, T-shirts and other collegiate merchandise.
But the bigger issue, says Ohio University, is one of image.
Long known to many in the state as just "Ohio U," Ohio University has been trying to build name recognition and to distinguish itself from Ohio State, said spokesman Bryan McNulty.
Ohio State this year filed a request with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office asking for more time to study the issue. But no compromise was reached after an initial meeting between the universities two weeks ago.
Both sides agreed to keep talking until Dec. 17. Another meeting is set for today.
If no compromise is reached, the universities could wind up in court. Both Ohio State's Trethewey and Ohio University's Burns said, however, that they hope to reach a joint-use agreement. But Burns said Ohio University is unlikely to agree to anything that would result in a lessening of its image or allow Ohio State to make piles of money from the sale of licensed merchandise bearing the word "Ohio."
Money is not the issue for Ohio State, Trethewey said.
"To us, this is not a licensing, royalties issues," she said. "It is a loyalty issue. An issue of traditions and history and image, and identification with the great state of Ohio."
Pub Date: 11/24/97