Would you like to buy a vowel? For some folks, the answer is “Yes.” But owning a letter may not be a-o-kay with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. To settle the matter, two organizations are in a Scrabble-y squabble over the use of a capital O.
At first, it may seem silly to fuss about letters and appearances. But remember that little things are often important to God. Proverbs 22:1 and Matthew 5:18 show that reputations and even letters sometimes matter.
Overtime Sports Inc. is an online network. Its programming appears on social media channels. Coverage features mostly high school basketball and football athletes.
This summer, Ohio State University asked the sports network to stop using the Overtime logo. It is a white capital O with rounded corners. The university says Overtime’s O is too close to its own trademarked red “block O.”
Ohio State University has used the block O since at least 1898, according to attorney Samantha Quimby. “Ohio State recognizes there are many legitimate, non-confusing uses of the letter ‘O,’” says Quimby. But “there can be no doubt that when the vast majority of people see a Block ‘O’ they associate it with Ohio State.”
University spokesman Chris Davey says, “Like . . . many other universities, Ohio State works to protect the university’s brand and trademarks because these assets hold significant value.” Davey isn’t kidding. Last year alone, Ohio State made $15.5 million on T-shirts, mugs, and other branded products.
Overtime Sports officials didn’t back down. Instead, they filed a federal lawsuit. They want OSU to leave them alone about the Overtime logo.
Intellectual property attorney Ross Kimbarovsky says arguments like these usually come down to whether average people will mistake one company for the other. Kimbarovsky spoke to National Public Radio about another trademark confusion: the two very similar curly Ws of the Washington Nationals and Walgreens drugstore chain. “The Nationals play baseball. Walgreens does not. They’re totally different markets,” he says.
Overtime officials see no danger of confusing their network with an institute of higher learning. Further, they point out that their logo has rounded edges and a rectangle in the center. Ohio State’s logo is squared off. They are even different colors.
Plus, says Overtime attorney Laura Popp-Rosenberg, lots of companies use the letter O in their logos. She insists consumers aren’t confused.
Letters aren’t the only language fragment Ohio State wants to own. Last fall, the school tried to trademark the word The as in, “The Ohio State University.” Really.
The patent office ruled against the school.