Will other charitable organizations start their own “ice bucket challenge?” Not if the ALS Association has its way.
The ALS Association filed two trademark applications with the U.S. Trademark Office – ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE (Serial No. 86/375,292) and ALS ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE (Serial No. 86/375,305) – both for charitable fundraising services. The ALS Association is using U.S. trademark law to protect the popularity and exceptional fundraising the “ice bucket challenge” has provided them. By filing these trademark applications, the ALS Association is attempting to limit use of the term “ice bucket challenge” with respect to charitable fundraising activities.
If the ALS Association is granted trademark protection for these terms, they will have the ability to stop other charitable organizations from using the term "ice bucket challenge" in relation to fundraising activities. This would create a chilling effect on other charities from promoting their own ice bucket challenge, as they would be unable to call it an ice bucket challenge.
The ALS Association is taking proactive steps to protect the popularity of the “ice bucket challenge" and to ensure that the public always associates the term with the ALS Association. Given the campaign's overwhelming success in fundraising efforts, and as a social media phenomenon, it is understandable why the ALS Association would take these steps – they want to own the "ice bucket challenge." It is a bit surprising, however, that the ALS Association has not attempted to seek trademark protection for other goods, such as T-shirts, hats, and the like so that they could sell “ice bucket challenge” branded merchandise to further increase their donation base.
Regardless, the steps taken by the ALS Association is a good lesson that every business or organization should look for ways to protect the things that distinguish them from their competitors. The ALS Association is attempting to utilize U.S. trademark laws to prevent other charities from piggybacking off of the popularity of the “ice bucket challenge.”