Home ALS Charity Drops “Ice Bucket Challenge” Trademark Attempt

ALS Charity Drops “Ice Bucket Challenge” Trademark Attempt

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch takes the Ice Bucket Challenge

The ALS Association’s attempt to trademark the phrase “Ice Bucket Challenge” met with a chilly response from Internet critics. It has now withdrawn its applications with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  

On Friday, the ALS Association announced that since July 29, it has received more than $109.9 million in donations—a 3504% increase from the $2.8 million it received during same time period last year. Those invited to participate in the in the Ice Bucket Challenge have 24 hours to either donate money or take a shower under a bucket of ice filled water, optimally posting video proof of the challenge met on the Internet. As the donations and more than 1 million videos posted on YouTube and Facebook show, many chose to do both. 

The origins of the ice bucket challenge are unclear, though its been utilized in benefit of other charities both before and during the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge’s viral reign. The predecessor “Cold Water Challenge” that started making the rounds in mid 2013 was often issued to benefit cancer charities. 

The ALS Overreaches

Other charities dedicated to support of sufferers and research of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease), benefited from donations inspired by social media phenomenon. The ALS Association however, received from the lion’s share, and on August 26, the nonprofit filed two trademark applications with the USPTO. The first was for “ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE” and the second for ALS ICE BUCKET.

“This is why we can’t have nice things,” was one of the more, ahem, charitable criticisms repeated on Twitter after trademark attorney Erik M. Pelton posted about the ALS Association’s USPTO filings on his firm’s website under the pithy headline, “Let the ice bucket trademark challenges begin.” Many, however, didn’t spare the organization their own icy criticism:


On Friday, the same day the ALS Association thanked donors all over the world for their $100.9 million generosity, it also pulled its trademark applications. The ALS Association provided ReadWrite with the following statement: 

The ALS Association 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.  

In his trademark blog post, Pelton delineated the reasons he felt the ALS Association’s trademark attempt was inappropriate. These criticism included the fact that the phrase “Ice Bucket Challenge” isn’t associated exclusively with fundraising for the ALS Association. He also questioned whether if successful, the nonprofit would prevent others from using the ice bucket challenge for other charitable causes.

But Let’s Consign These Guys To An Icy Hell

On the other hand, perhaps we should have taken the ALS Association at its word. It’s hard to escape that feeling when you see how many outfits are trying to profit from the viral phenomenon.  may very well wish to protect the the game that sent its donations skyrocketing from those who seek to profit from it personally. Look no further than the Ice Bucket Challenge Halloween costume for an example of why we really can’t have nice things:

“ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease is a serious illness that destroys nervous cells and lives,” reads the description for this pile of plastic and tulle with a $40 price tag. “The Ice Bucket Challenge is the latest craze in “slacktivism” that helps raise awareness and donations to fund research in the ongoing struggle to end this terrible disease.”  

Google Play has a host of ALS Ice Bucket Challenge-themed apps. Amazon offers an ever-increasing inventory of “I Survived The Ice Bucket Challenge” apparel for everyone from infants to adults. There are stickers and magnets too, including the “Lindsay Lohan Photo Fridge Magnet, ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” ($2.99), which originally promised “side boob” but now merely assures the potential purchaser of “Highest Quality Magnet Available.”

None of these product descriptions offer much indication that your purchase will benefit anyone but the profiteers offering them. It’s enough—almost—to make you ask the ALS Association to reinstate its application. 

Lead image of Benedict Cumberbatch taking the Ice Bucket Challenge via YouTube screencap

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