The ALS Association Withdraws “Ice Bucket Challenge” Trademark Applications

by T+B Blog Team on September 2, 2014

What a difference a day makes! Just as the media picked up the story that The ALS Association (ALS) had filed trademark applications for its wildly popular “Ice Bucket Challenge,” the association announced the withdrawal of the applications the following day. Here’s the August 29th announcement on the ALS Facebook page:

“We’ve received several messages regarding the trademark applications we filed. We filed for these trademarks 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. However, we understand the public’s concern and are withdrawing the trademark applications. We appreciate the generosity and enthusiasm of everyone who has taken the challenge and donated to ALS charities.”

If you don’t know what the Ice Bucket Challenge is you’ve probably been on a very peaceful vacation without any Internet access. The viral phenomenon began in July when participants started sharing videos of buckets full of ice water being poured over their heads and nominating others to take “the challenge.” People are supposed to comply with the challenge within 24 hours, or make a donation to ALS. Scores of people around the world have participated — from Kermit the Frog to Bill Gates.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. This summer’s Ice Bucket Challenge topped all of ALS’ past fundraising efforts. As of August 29, the organization had received more than $100 million in donations (compared to $2.8 million during the same period last year). “We have never seen anything like this in the history of the disease,” said Barbara Newhouse, President and CEO of The ALS Association. “We couldn’t be more thrilled with the level of compassion, generosity and sense of humor that people are exhibiting as they take part in this impactful viral initiative.”

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.

Beyond the issue of trademarks, the success and wide reach of the Ice Bucket Challenge now has brands and organizations pondering just how to duplicate it. Check out Forbes“The Science Behind The Success Of The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” where author Rick Smith compares the success of the viral campaign to Bob Geldof’s 1985 Live Aid concert: “Ideas that are contagious share common characteristics that make them much more likely to be received, acted upon, and spread. Both Geldof’s and the Ice Bucket Challenge’s mission had the right DNA to propagate themselves. They were both big, selfless and simple.” Marketers take note.

What’s been your favorite Ice Bucket Challenge video so far? This one shows that not everyone gets wet:

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