Trademarks

Looking to Freeze Out Others, ALS Association Wants to Trademark the 'Ice Bucket Challenge'

Guest Writer
3 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

By now, the Ice Bucket Challenge -- the campaign to raise awareness for ALS, a fatal neurodegenerative disorder often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease -- has become a cultural movement. Mark Zuckerberg took the challenge. So did Martha Stewart and Justin Timberlake. If you haven't dunked a bucket of ice water on your head yourself, it's safe to assume that at least a dozen of your Facebook friends have.

While the nature of the challenge -- nominees must either donate $100 to the non-profit ALS Association or dump a bucket of ice water over their heads on camera – has spawned a million think pieces on the merits of the campaign (many question its counterintuitive premise, which encourages individuals to dump water on their heads in lieu of a donation), it's hard to argue with the numbers.  As of yesterday, the ALS association said it had raised $94.3 million since July 29, compared to just $2.7 million during the same time period last year. 

Related: Soon, Everyone in Silicon Valley Might Be Dousing Themselves in Ice Water

Simply put, the Ice Bucket Challenge is pure viral marketing magic, from which brands can learn a thing or two (or six) about organic marketing.

Considering its success, wouldn't it be great if other charities could capitalize on the Ice Bucket Challenge and raise money for their own, equally worthy, causes?

The ALS Association apparently isn’t on board with that. Ars Technica reports that the organization has filed two trademark applications with the US Patent and Trademark Office, which claim the association owns the phrases 'Ice Bucket Challenge' and 'ALS Ice Bucket Challenge' for use in charitable fundraising.  If the trademarks are granted, the ALS Association would be able to block other charities from using the phrases to raise money for their own causes.

Pretty icy move, no?

In its defense, the ALS Association told the Washington Post that it wants to patent the two phrases in order to prevent "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."

Related: What You Can Learn About Marketing From an 'Icy' Phenomenon

But as Mashable points out, when the Ice Bucket Challenge first started in early June, it wasn't even directly tied to the ALS association. Instead, nominees selected a charity that held personal significance for them. This corresponds with Slate's deep dive into the origins of the challenge, which traces the campaign back to early June when pro golfers started to dump ice water over their heads for various charities.

Even if the trademarks are granted (which appears unlikely, given the above timeline) it's unclear whether or not the ALS association will actually go after other charities that appropriate the Ice Bucket Challenge. Here's to hoping that's not the case.

Related: The Magic Formula for Viral Content

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