September 01, 2014

ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE Applications Make a Splash

by Stites & Harbison, PLLC

Just seven days after the ALS took the plunge and filed applications for registration of the ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE marks, the ALS abandoned them. On August 22, 2014, ALSA (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association) filed applications for registration of ALS ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE and ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE for use in connection with "chariable fundarising services" with the USPTO.

These applications created quite a splash and sparked a great deal of public concern. You've probably seen the viral "Ice Bucket Challenge" on social media. The challenge requires someone to pour a bucket of ice over their head, donate to ALS, and challenge others to do the same. What's interesting is that originally ALS had nothing to do with the Ice Bucket Challenge; in fact, the concept of the Ice Bucket Challenge was broadly used in connection with other charities, many related to cancer. The first time the Ice Bucket Challenge was connected to ALS is rumored to be on July 14, 2014, when a golfer did the challenge for ALS. Many, however, believe that Peter Frates, a former Boston College baseball player and a lifetime Red Sox fan, started the challenge for ALS at the end of July.

Regardless of who linked the Ice Bucket Challenge to ALS and when, the social media phenomenon has raised over $94 million since July and is still going strong. ALSA claimed that it filed its trademark applictions "in good faith as a measure to protect the ice bucket challenge from misuse after consulting with the families who initiated the challenge this summer." After much public criticism, including accusations that the applications were "legally dubious" and "shameful" because the applications would prevent others, including other charities, from using the marks, the applications were expressly abandoned.

In addition to withdrawing the applications, ALSA made a statement:

The ALS Association is beside itself with gratitude to the millions of people who have participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge, and particularly grateful to the families who should fairly be credited with making the campaign go viral. The ALS Association took steps to trademark the Ice Bucket Challenge after seeing many examples of unscrupulous profiteers trying to drive revenue to themselves, instead of the fight against ALS. We secured the blessing of the families who initiated the challenge, which they provided without hesitation. The Association did this as a good faith effort to protect the integrity of the Ice Bucket Challenge. We are intent on preventing for-profit companies from capitalizing on this amazing, almost wholly grass-roots, and charitable campaign to raise money and awareness for the fight against ALS."

In case you haven't seen the Ice Bucket Challenge, here it is: