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Can ALS Association Trademark the Ice Bucket Challenge?

Business Litigation / Intellectual Property / Sticky Situations

Unless you’ve been hiding under a bucket this summer, it’s likely you’ve heard about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. If you haven’t yet been called on to donate or douse yourself with a bucket of icy water, you’ve certainly seen the thousands of videos of people far and wide — famous and not — gasping from a freezing bath.

Now the ALS Association has filed two patent applications to trademark the term, “Ice Bucket Challenge” for use in raising money for charity. Since the end of July, ALS has raised almost $94 million via the Challenge, compared with just $2.7 million during the same time period last year. Naturally, they don’t want other charitable organizations using an ice bucket challenge to steal their fundraising limelight. But is it possible to trademark the Ice Bucket Challenge?

Legal experts weighing in on the matter have noted that the ALS Association will probably not prevail in its trademarking efforts. First, the term is generic, likely too much so to qualify for trademark. Second, ALS did not invent the phrase nor the use of it for fundraising. In June, several pro golfers started dumping ice water over their heads to raise money for their favorite charities. In mid-July, a minor league golfer tied the challenge to ALS, and it took off from there.

Defending itself against critics that say the Ice Bucket Challenge should be available for all charitable causes seeking to raise funds, the ALS Association said it filed the patent applications “after seeing many examples of unscrupulous profiteers trying to drive revenue to themselves, instead of the fight against ALS.

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