The “ice bucket challenge” has become the viral sensation of the summer of 2014. From former presidents, to athletes, to your neighbor and your cousins, everywhere you look online someone is posting a video of their challenge and then challenging others. (If you have been under a rock and need more background on the ice bucket challenge, see Wikipedia.)
Of course, it is great to see so much energy – and funds – going to a charitable cause. The ALS Association announced this morning that donations exceed $94 million dollars over the last few weeks — far more than they raised in all of 2013.
— The ALS Association (@alsassociation) August 27, 2014
But who owns the name “ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE”? It is a viral movement. Its origin is disputed, and likely was used for other charitable causes first.
Yet by filing with the USPTO, the ALS Association now alleges that it owns rights to the phrase “Ice Bucket Challenge” in connection with charitable fundraising. Two trademark applications were filed by the association with the USPTO last Friday for ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE (Serial No. 86375292) and for ALS ICE BUCKET (Serial No. 86375305) CHALLENGE for use in connection with charitable fundraising services. The association claims that its first use of the phrases in commerce was August 4, 2014
I don’t think this claim by the ALS Association is appropriate for several reasons:
- Is ALS Association the true owner of the phrase? I don’t believe that the Association created it or was the first to use it. Not sure they can claim real ownership.
- Is the phrase “ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE” associated exclusively with fundraising for the ALS Association? I don’t think so.
- The phrase may already be generic. It is widely used, by many, in ways that don’t only related to the ALS Association.
- Is the phrase likely to be viewed by the public as indicating the source of the charitable fundraising services? Again, since many others have taken the challenge in the name of (and/or contributed to) other charities, I’m not sure that they will.
- If ALS Association successfully registers the phrase, it could seek to restrict use of it for other charitable causes. That would be the biggest shame in all of this.
ALS Association captured a viral wave this summer. And it raised lots of money and attention for the ALS disease and the struggle to find a cure and to assist those diagnosed with it. An effort to register the ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE strikes me as a bit akin to those who sought register BOSTON STRONG after the marathon bombings in 2013. Even if it were permissible under the law to register the phrase (again that is not clear here), it is in poor taste. If others want to use the phrase to raise money for their causes, why would ALS Association want to stop them?
For more background on the ICE BUCK CHALLENGE and how it started, here is a Slate investigation: Who Invented the Ice Bucket Challenge?
PS – Yours truly took the ice bucket challenge on vacation last week: