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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.

#IceBucketChallenge donations exceed $94 million. Thank you for your support! http://t.co/vLkQPG2lmH

— 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?

FireShot Screen Capture #172 - 'Homepage - ALS Association' - www_alsa_org

for more about ALS and the ALS Association, see www.alsa.org

PS – Yours truly took the ice bucket challenge on vacation last week:

Erik Pelton #icebucketchallenge

30 Responses
  1. […] The whole Ice Bucket Challenge thing has become quite the story of the month of August, and it’s certainly been fascinating to watch how this viral promotion has turned into a massive money raiser for research into ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis — sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s Disease). If you somehow haven’t yet heard of this (and I find it nearly impossible to believe you haven’t yet), it’s when people get challenged to dump a bucket of ice over their heads or give money to charity (though, mostly people do both things). While there’s been some ice bucket challenge backlash (often for silly reasons), just from the standpoint of watching something go viral, it’s been fascinating. Of course, whenever things get big, sooner or later lawyers are going to step in and things are going to get messy. It appears that the ALS Association — by far the largest beneficiary of the Ice Bucket Challenge — is now trying to trademark the term. […]

  2. […] The whole Ice Bucket Challenge thing has become quite the story of the month of August, and it’s certainly been fascinating to watch how this viral promotion has turned into a massive money raiser for research into ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis — sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s Disease). If you somehow haven’t yet heard of this (and I find it nearly impossible to believe you haven’t yet), it’s when people get challenged to dump a bucket of ice over their heads or give money to charity (though, mostly people do both things). While there’s been some ice bucket challenge backlash (often for silly reasons), just from the standpoint of watching something go viral, it’s been fascinating. Of course, whenever things get big, sooner or later lawyers are going to step in and things are going to get messy. It appears that the ALS Association — by far the largest beneficiary of the Ice Bucket Challenge — is now trying to trademark the term. […]

  3. […] — Erik M. Pelton: Let the ice bucket trademark challenges begin! @alsassociation files to register “Ice Bucket C… […]

  4. […] have first come to the attention of trademark attorney Erik Pelton, who mentioned the filings in a blog post on […]

  5. Kelly Corwen says:

    While the ALS Association is one of many worthy ALS charities, they mist certainly did not begin the Ice Bucket Challenge. I am on the board of MAC Angels, another worthy ALS charity. We heard of the Ice Bucket Challenge thru. Lou Young of CBS in New York, who was interviewing a Pelham, NY resident named Anthony Senerchia who has been battling ALS for 10 years and was promoting the Ice Bucket Challenge in the middle of July. ALSA should be grateful for all of the donations they have received at the request of Pete Frates, a Boston area native also battling ALS and being credited with beginning the challenge.

  6. […] first reported on the Erik M Pelton & Associates blog, the ALSA filed an application with the US Patent and Trademark Office to be granted a […]

  7. […] twee aanvragen bij de United States Patent and Trademark Office die ontdekt werden door advocaat Erik Pelton. Het gaat om de handelsmerken op ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ en ‘ALS Ice Bucket […]

  8. […] “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?” he wrote on his website. […]

  9. […] Erik Pelton jako pierwszy zauważył ten wniosek o zarejestrowanie znaku. Jego zdaniem organizacja nie powinna […]

  10. […] As to the merits of the claim, the attorney who spoke to The Washington Post wrote on his blog: […]

  11. […] attorney Erik Pelton, who first mentioned the filings in a blog post on Wednesday, pointed out some of the potential legal landmines present in ALSA’s attempt to […]

  12. […] Trademark Office seeking to trademark the term for use in charity fundraising. That move quickly sparked an outcry, since ALSA didn’t invent the phrase “ice bucket challenge” and the concept has […]

  13. […] Trademark Office seeking to trademark the term for use in charity fundraising. That move quickly sparked an outcry, since ALSA didn’t invent the phrase “ice bucket challenge” and the concept has […]

  14. wayan says:

    Look at Komen, which trademarked “___ for the Cure” (race, run, etc) and now sues anyone who dares use the phase in their marketing – even for other breast cancer charity events.

  15. […] Trademark Office seeking to trademark the term for use in charity fundraising. That move quickly sparked an outcry, since ALSA didn’t invent the phrase “ice bucket challenge” and the concept has […]

  16. […] Trademark Office seeking to trademark the term for use in charity fundraising. That move quickly sparked an outcry, since ALSA didn’t invent the phrase “ice bucket challenge” and the concept has […]

  17. […] profession Erik Pelton, who initial mentioned a filings in a blog post on Wednesday, forked out some of a intensity authorised landmines benefaction in ALSA’s try to […]

  18. […] in a blog post Pelton has questioned the veracity of the claim, pointing out that the phrase is too generic and that as the Association didn’t […]

  19. […] in a blog post Pelton has questioned the veracity of the claim, pointing out that the phrase is too generic and that as the Association didn’t create it and […]

  20. […] truffe sui social. Tuttavia è indubbiamente di cattivo gusto, come sottolineato dall’avvocato Erik Pelton, grande esperto di marchi […]

  21. […] to those who sought register ‘Boston Strong’ after a marathon bombings in 2013,” he wrote in a blog post. “Even if it were slight underneath a law to register a word (again that is not transparent […]

  22. […] Office seeking to trademark the term for use in charity fundraising. That move quickly sparked an outcry, since ALSA didn’t invent the phrase “ice bucket challenge” and the concept […]

  23. […] When first reported, there was immediate backlash against the trademark applications. Blogger and trademark attorney Erik Pelton told The Washington Post he was against the association’s actions, stating: “I find this to be shameful, because I hope that they would never consider … preventing some other charity from using the phrase.” Pelton’s detailed reasons against the ALS trademarks, including the question of ownership, are outlined on his IPelton@blog. […]

  24. […] noted the association’s trademarks could restrict charitable fundraising for other causes: “If others want to use the phrase to raise money for their causes, why would ALS Association want to stop […]

  25. […] with USPTO to get a trademark right on terms – ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE and ALS ICE BUCKET CHALLEGE. Eric Pelton, a trademark attorney spotted this […]

  26. […] He also noted the association's trademarks could restrict charitable fundraising for other causes: "If others want to use the phrase to raise money for their causes, why would ALS Association want to stop […]

  27. […] has put a damper on the wildly successful “Ice Bucket Challenge” fundraiser after filing applications with the US Patent and Trademark Office in an attempt to trademark the contest’s title.  Given […]

  28. […] Erik Pelton, Let the Ice Bucket Trademark Challenges Begin!, ErikPelton.com, Aug. 27, […]

  29. […] other charities). Rather a lot of donations. Enough, reportedly, for the ALS Association to attempt to trademark it, in a rather unpopular […]

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