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Updated: 08/29/2014 10:38:32PM

ALS Association backs down on trademark attempt

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(Reuters) — In the wake of criticism over its attempt to trademark the words “ice bucket challenge,” the ALS Association said it is withdrawing its applications from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Following a blog post by a Virginia trademark attorney that was critical of the trademark application and a report by Internet tech news site Techdirt that said ALS did not originate the ice bucket challenge, criticism of the trademark move grew on Twitter and other social media sites.

“We understand the public’s concern and are withdrawing the trademark applications,” the association’s spokeswoman, Carrie Munk, said in an emailed statement to Reuters on Friday.

She said the association had filed for the trademarks “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.”

The ALS Association fights amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, a neurological degenerative disease that can often lead to death within a few years of diagnosis. There is no cure.

The ice bucket challenge has become a viral sensation, exploding across social media in recent weeks. People post videos of themselves dumping a bucket of ice water over their heads and challenging others to do the same or make a donation to ALS. There are hundreds of thousands of videos on YouTube and other sites showing everyone from average citizens to celebrities doing the challenge.

The association said on Friday that the challenge generated more than $100 million in the last month, compared with just $2.8 million in the same period last year. There were more than 3 million donors, it said.

On Aug. 22, the association filed two applications with the USPTO, alleging it owns the rights to the phrases “Ice Bucket Challenge” and “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.”

Virginia trademark attorney Erik Pelton was one of the first to spot the applications and raised the alarm in a critical blog post. He told Reuters he had been searching the USPTO database for weeks, knowing that someone would try to trademark the words, as typically happens when there is a pop culture phenomenon.

“I didn’t expect it would be the ALS Association,” he said. “They’re better than trying to capitalize exclusively on or prevent others from using the name.”

The challenge, he said, “grew organically. It doesn’t seem right that they’d try to take it away from the public.”

Picking up on Pelton’s discovery, Internet tech news site Techdirt said the ALS Association had not originated the challenge, which had previously been used for a lung cancer fundraiser.

The ALS Association did not specify in its statement what kind of “misuse” of the challenge it was seeking to prevent.

“We appreciate the generosity and enthusiasm of everyone who has taken the challenge and donated to ALS charities,” Munk said.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Ted Botha and Leslie Adler)




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