ALS Association Wants to Trademark ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’

ice bucket

Can you blame them, really?

Yet some attorneys call the move “shameful”, comparing it to last year’s attempt to trademark the phrase “Boston Strong” in the wake of the bombing that shook that city.

Everyone from Mark Zuckerberg to Anna Wintour, a robot and a smartphone poured water over themselves for advocacy this summer. Pamela Anderson and several big fashion names even sparked some ethics debates by co-opting the meme for their own purposes.

But this move undermines the campaign.

It’s very cool that the association raised nearly $100 million for the treatment of a disease that few understand and far, far fewer have actually experienced. (The closest we came to ALS was through the father of a member of our Little League baseball team, who eventually lost his life.)

Still, a post last week on Vox showed readers why all the attention garnered by the ice bucket meme might be a bit…misplaced. This infographic tells a compelling story:


This isn’t to say that ALS is not a legitimate cause — only that heart disease and diabetes, along with some other hereditary conditions, have a far greater impact on public health and need both research and PR support to help change behaviors.

As to the merits of the claim, the attorney who spoke to The Washington Post wrote on his blog:

“The phrase may already be generic. It is widely used, by many, in ways that don’t only relate to the ALS Association.”

The ALS Association countered, claiming that the filing was designed to stop “unscrupulous profiteers trying to drive revenue to themselves, instead of the fight against ALS.”

Yet, as the lawyer noted, the exact origins of the phrase are in doubt. Techdirt goes so far as to write that “the ALS Association had nothing to do with the Ice Bucket Challenge originally”, and we’re pretty sure the stock image atop this post came to life before the August 4th birthdate given by the group.

As annoying as Samsung’s attempt to newsjack the story may have been, the act of claiming legal ownership makes the association look like, well, marketers.

Also: in our humble opinions, David Lynch ended the meme this week:

Now who can do better than that call-out? Any takers?