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Charity faces fury over ice bucket challenge trademark attempt

This news post is over 9 years old

​US charity is forced to retreat on its attempts to claim 'ownership' of fundraising phenomena

A charity has been forced to back down over attempts to trademark the phrase ‘ice bucket challenge’.

The ALS Association – which raises funds for sufferers of motor neurone disease in the USA – has withdrawn an ownership claim made to the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Criticism of the charity’s move grew on Twitter and other social media – forcing it to back down.

Many disputed any group’s ‘ownership’ of the ice bucket challenge, which sees people dump freezing cold water on their heads and make a donation to charity, while nominating others to do the same.

The origins of the craze are obscure – but many have come to associate it with fundraising for motor neurone disease charities after US golfer Chris Kennedy took part as his wife’s cousin suffers from the condition, which is called ALS in the States.

This led to £37.7million being raised for the ALS Association and lesser amounts for the Motor Neurone Disease Association (MNDA) and MND Scotland.

"The application was made in good faith as a measure to protect the ice bucket challenge from misuse"

However, other charities – most notably cancer charity Macmillan – have raised funds through supporters doing the challenge and critics of the ALS’ trademark attempts said no one charity ‘owns’ the phenomena.

On 22 August, the association filed two applications with the USPTO, alleging it owns the rights to the phrases ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ and ‘ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.’

However, it quickly backed down following protests. Carrie Munk, ALS Association spokesperson, said: "We understand the public’s concern and are withdrawing the trademark applications.”

She insisted the application was made "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.”

Munk added: "We appreciate the generosity and enthusiasm of everyone who has taken the challenge and donated to ALS charities.”

Craig Stockton, MND Scotland chief executive, said: “We don’t know enough to comment specifically about the situation regarding the American association and why they decided to initially go down this line but we can say that the ice bucket challenge has been an incredible awareness raising and fundraising opportunity which will benefit people with MND and their families in Scotland.”

This is the latest controversy to dog the ice bucket challenge. Recently TFN reported how Macmillan had been accused of ‘muscling in’ on the craze – something the charity strenuously denied.



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Laura Macdonald
over 9 years ago
I think the attempt to trademark a fundraising initiative is ridiculous. Who patents the sponsored walk or fun run? However, I can also appreciate that it must be very frsutrating to come up with a fundraising idea which becomes an international phenomena but not reap the rewards for your area of charitable focus.
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