The whole Ice Bucket Challenge thing has become quite the story of the month of August, and it's certainly been fascinating to watch how this viral promotion has turned into a massive money raiser for research into ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis -- sometimes called Lou Gehrig's Disease). If you somehow haven't
yet heard of this (and I find it nearly impossible to believe you haven't yet), it's when people get challenged to dump a bucket of ice over their heads or give money to charity (though, mostly people do both things). While there's been some ice bucket challenge backlash (often for silly reasons), just from the standpoint of watching something go viral, it's been fascinating. Of course, whenever things get big, sooner or later lawyers are going to step in and things are going to get messy. It appears that the ALS Association -- by far the largest beneficiary of the Ice Bucket Challenge -- is now trying to trademark the term
That seems problematic for a number of reasons. First off, the ALS Association had nothing to do with the Ice Bucket Challenge originally. It only later became popular in association with ALS. I first heard of the Ice Bucket Challenge back in early July when a friend of the blog, law professor Eric Goldman, did an ice bucket challenge
as part of a lung cancer fundraiser. And research into the history of the challenge found that it was used widely for other charities
for months before that (often cancer). And other, similar, challenges go back over a century
The ice bucket challenge really only became associated with ALS much later. The first known connection of the challenge to ALS came on July 14th
when a golfer did it for ALS (a bunch of other golfers had been doing ice bucket challenges for other charities for a couple of months before that
). Pete Frates, the guy that many have credited
as starting the whole "ALS Ice Bucket Challenge" thing didn't actually get involved until the end of July.
While the ALS Association has certainly been a massive beneficiary, it had little to nothing to do with anything related to the challenge, other than getting a bunch of checks in the month of August. To now claim a trademark over it seems... kind of disgusting. It's also legally dubious. In the link above, by Erik Pelton, he highlights many of these problems with the trademark claim, but further notes how troubling this is:
If ALS Association successfully registers the phrase, it could seek to restrict use of it for other charitable causes. That would be the biggest shame in all of this.
Hopefully ALS Association reconsiders or the trademark attempt is rejected. Not everything needs to be "owned," and it's a real shame that people have been so indoctrinated into myths related to "IP" that they immediately rush to lock up everything.