The viral awareness and fundraising campaign known as the Ice Bucket Challenge has swept the country, raising more than $100 million for research focused on ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease.
But can the ALS Association claim trademark rights in Ice Bucket Challenge and ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? More importantly, even if it is possible to successfully claim trademark rights in those terms, should the ALS Association do so?
On August 22, 2014 the ALS Association filed applications to obtain U.S. trademark registrations for both terms, but exactly a week later the ALS Association filed requests to abandon the applications. The U.S. Trademark Office granted the abandonment requests.
What happened? Although some legal analysts suggested that the ALS Association might have some difficulties in obtaining trademark registrations for the terms, the real reason for the rapid about-face by the ALS Association appears to be the negative public reaction to the ALS Association attempting to claim exclusive rights to those terms.
Criticism from a variety of sources has noted that the Ice Bucket Challenge did not originate with the ALS Association, and that the term was actually used by other charities before this recent use to benefit ALS Association. Further, critics note that if the ALS Association were to successfully register the Ice Bucket Challenge terms for its exclusive use, then it may try to force other charities to stop using the term for their own awareness and fundraising campaigns. In addition, many companies have joined the Ice Bucket Challenge bandwagon by producing videos showing their leaders taking the challenge and, of course, prominently showing those companies' own trademark logos -- and there appears to have been some concern that the ALS Association might try to limit that commercial exposure.
The ALS Association obviously wanted to avoid a controversy over trademark rights, because it could damage its reputation and halt the momentum of the Ice Bucket Challenge. Just as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge rapidly went viral, so too could the negative publicity surrounding what the public might perceive as a greedy trademark-rights grab.