The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge took America by storm a month ago and has since gained momentum internationally as well. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is a debilitating illness that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. The progressive degeneration eventually leads to death and there is still no cure.
Who'd have thought that a trademark controversy would have ensued over this charitable awareness campaign?
People like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Tim Cook are just a few of the many illustrious people to have taken the challenge. The viral campaign has helped the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association (ALSA) raise over $100 million dollars. Although successful viral charity campaigns are not unheard of––for example, Movember or #NoMakeupSelfie––the amount of money raised in such a short period of time is awe inspiring. In wake of its huge success, ALSA had recently filed applications with the USPTO to trademark the terms “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” and “Ice Bucket Challenge.” But after being criticized publicly, ALSA has withdrawn its application and posted its reasoning on its Facebook page: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.”
Over the weeks a number of spinoffs of the bucket challenge have come up such as the Rice Bucket Challenge in India, where people donate a bucket of rice to feed the hungry, and the Soapy Bucket Challenge in Ivory Coast, in which participants are encouraged to donate bottles of hand sanitizer to help prevent the spread of the Ebola virus. If charities use the challenge to raise funds for other noble causes, ALSA should not stop them.
But I believe the misuse ALSA was concerned about, and that the public misunderstood, was not the term being used by charities but by businesses trying to cash in on the phenomenon. There is already a Halloween costume store that is selling an Ice Bucket Challenge costume and a slew of websites selling Ice Bucket Challenge themed t-shirts. Few, if any, give a percentage of the profits to ALS, which if ALS licensed would have enabled them to raise more for their charity and accelerate progress to create a cure for ALS.
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