The Ohio State University’s trademark application for “THE” has been initially refused by the USPTO. However, there is a chance that the application could be approved if OSU decides to re-submit specimens that show proper use of the mark.
Josh Gerben was quoted by Bloomberg Law discussing the next steps OSU needs to take towards registration, and what their rights would be:
Entities can register seemingly simple, common words if they meet the legal requirements […].
“The legal rights would be exceptionally narrow,” […] If Ohio State eventually wins a registration for “the,” it could only sue for infringement if another entity used the word “The,” by itself, as a trademark for T-shirts and hats, he said.
[Marc Jacobs and OSU] could fix their applications by submitting samples of them featuring the mark as a brand on online or standing displays […]. Labels and tags, however, are “the gold standard” for using a trademark on clothing, he said.
“With anything else as an alternate specimen, ultimately the trademark office has discretion on whether it’s enough or not,”
Source: Jahner, K. “Ohio State Gets ‘THE’ Trademark Rejection—For Now”. BloombergLaw.com. September 11 2019.