Beautiful Ohio

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OK, sports fans, this is it: the weekend our formerly top-ranked Buckeyes face their annual humiliation at the hands of those creeps from Ann Arbor and turn into Cooper's Poopers. (Actually, they already did two weeks ago, by rolling over and playing dead for a bunch of nobodies from East Lansing!)

It doesn't matter what the line on Saturday's Ohio State-Michigan grudge match is, we're gonna lose.

The way we always do.
Maybe it's those weird-looking helmets, with the wavy yellow lines that are supposed to resemble, what, a wolverine's stripes? Or maybe the fact that, in nature, your basic wolverine wolfs down buckeyes for lunch.

I don't know. And frankly, I don't care.
As an OSU alumnus (Class of '67) who never once set foot in Ohio Stadium until graduation day, when--like the character in Philip Roth's great comic novella--I said Goodbye, Columbus for good, I'm far more interested in the bizarre controversy brewing between my alma mater and the pipsqueak party school that goes by a similar name.

We're talking, of course, of Ohio University.
Or, as it's popularly known: OU. (As in "IOU"--what your basic, beer-swilling student at this diploma mill nestled in the idyllic Appalachian hills of downstate dope country ends up telling the local judge after trashing the town of Athens during Daylight Savings riots.)

As you've probably heard by now, the OU honchos went and registered the name "Ohio"--a word that former governor Jim Rhodes couldn't even pronounce properly--with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office a few years ago, thereby giving them the exclusive right to its use in connection with sports events and licensed merchandise like sweatshirts.

And the Buckeye brain trust--preoccupied, no doubt, with mounting some futile defense against Michigan--found itself, well, blindsided by this unexpected blitz. Which isn't surprising, when you consider that these are the people who gave the world golf scholar Andy Katzenmoyer.

The first they heard of it was when Ohio U.'s legal eagles casually pointed out that the word "State" is nowhere to be found on OSU's scarlet-and-gray cheerleaders' uniforms--and, well, that could be construed as a trademark violation. To which OSU responded by filing a list of objections with the feds.

That was last December, and the two schools have since spent a combined $43,000 fighting each other over "Ohio." Their dispute is now headed for the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board in Washington.

If this seems more than a little absurd, consider the case of the Georgia Tech Yellowjackets (mascot: "Buzz," the bee), who are suing a minor-league baseball team called the Salt Lake City Buzz over use of the word they have in common. As if any fans could ever get these two geographically disparate entities confused!

Then there's the utterly surreal world of fashion, where designer Claude Montana (no relation to Joe) has demanded that the state from which he stole his surname stop allowing its cottage industries to call themselves things like Montana Woolen Mills. And Ralph Lauren is laying claim to the word "Polo," which his hoity-toity clothing company supposedly trademarked in 1985, and trying to prevent the U.S. Polo Association from continuing to use it as the title of its 22-year-old membership magazine.

On the restaurant front, ABC-TV's 20/20 recently reported that the powerful, celebrity-backed Planet Hollywood chain had put the fear of God into some immigrant-run neighborhood joint that'd been going by the handle "Planet Thailand"--on the grounds that, hey, ya gotta protect those trademarks!

Nobody needs to tell that to the folks at Kellogg's, who are taking on a Texas oil refinery over what they perceive as a similarity between the two companies' logos--cartoon characters that have coexisted peacefully for the past 30 years. Seems that the Michigan-based cereal manufacturer, whose Tony the Tiger has been talking kids into getting Mom to spring for Frosted Flakes ever since 1952, wants Exxon to tell people to put something other than a tiger in their tanks.

This, my friends, is why the law schools of America have absolutely nothing to worry about when it comes to keeping their enrollments up.

Such "exclusive use" scams have become the norm in the past few years, ever since NBA coach Pat Riley opened this can of worms by claiming "ownership" of the coined term "threepeat." And we can expect the idiocy to continue into the next millennium.

In fact, the expression "Year 2000" has already been secured as a merchandising trademark by a savvy New York retail exec who filed the requisite papers--and $245 application fee--way back in the early '90s.

And Robert Guberman's Planet Marketing now stands to rake in millions off of stuff bearing this slogan: everything from a line of watches recently shipped to Sears and J.C. Penney's to such things as socks, sunglasses, and even yo-yos.

"This is the biggest thing that will happen in anyone's lifetime," the 58-year-old Guberman told the Associated Press last month. "It took a thousand years to get here. Now, it's a phenomenon that will touch every individual across the (dare I repeat this word in print?) planet."

And just to be on the safe side, the guy also scored the trademark for "Year 2001."

Imagine, if the Stones had had their shit together back in 1962, when they first got together, they'd be rolling in even more dough than they already are--thanks to royalties from both the magazine and the Bob Dylan song that appropriated their name. Ditto novelist Norman Mailer, whose euphemism for "fuck" provided the Fugs with a moniker.

(Memo to Scene Legal Department: Please look into possibility of case against Time, which has been running regular feature called "American Scene." And while you're at it, check to see if it's not too late for us to trademark "Reality Check.")

Meanwhile, the battle between our state's biggest university and its oldest, who are actually scheduled to meet--most fittingly, at Ohio Stadium--in what is sure to be a woefully mismatched football game next season, rages on. And the indignities OSU fans are sure to suffer on Saturday will surely pale in comparison to what'll happen if their school loses in court.

The venerable "Marching 100" band, whose specialty is spelling out that "script Ohio" signature during halftime shows, being forced to take on another 100 or so members just to accommodate the word "State"?

A scary prospect, indeed.

David Sowd's e-mail address: [email protected]

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