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ALS gets cold feet over Ice Bucket trade mark applications

The ALS Association has raised a staggering income of $100m over the past four weeks from Ice Bucket Challenges. These are the highly amusing fundraising challenges which began in the USA and have gone viral thanks to the likes of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

The ALS Association funds research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), known as motor neurone disease (MND) in the UK. Many of us in the UK have been involved in the challenges in one way or another and will have contributed to the unprecedented sum raised to date from such a campaign.

Whilst the ALS Association may have got it right with its fundraising strategy it is a different story on the trade mark front. The charity decided to register two trade marks for ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE and ALS ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE for use in connection with charitable fundraising services and proceeded to file these with the United States Patent and Trade mark Office (USPTO). Those applications were noticed by other Trade mark Attorneys in the US and news soon spiralled to the media that the charity was trying to claim ownership of both phrases. Criticisms of the applications included whether the ALS Association was the true owner of the phrases and whether it was the first to use the phrases.

After the charity received a backlash of criticism, the ALS Association decided to withdraw its applications and released the following statement on its website: “The ALS Association filed for these trade marks 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 trade mark applications. We appreciate the generosity and enthusiasm of everyone who has taken the challenge and donated to ALS charities.”

The powerful effect of social media coverage has been extraordinary for the charity, although it is clear that it is not something charities can particularly control. Whilst social media coverage has been beneficial for raising funds and awareness for the charity, media coverage has worked to the charity’s detriment in its trade mark applications.

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