The Girl Scouts Sues The Boy Scouts Over Trademark

from the scouting-party dept

As you may recall, the Boy Scouts of America decided late last year to — finally — allow girls to join their ranks. It was a widely praised decision that was long overdue, with the organization’s mission statement not calling for any kind of gender exclusivity. You may also recall that the BSA has some history of being on the wrong side of intellectual property concerns and even has a special law created just for the BSA to allow it to be trademark bullies. These two seemingly unrelated worlds have now collided, with the BSA being sued by the Girl scouts of America over trademark concerns.

The Girl Scouts are suing the Boy Scouts, saying the organization’s inclusive rebranding effort has caused all sorts of consumer confusion from mistaken enrollment in the Boy Scouts to misinformation about a merge of the two groups.

Tuesday’s trademark infringement lawsuit is an attempt to clear up the uncertainty, said the Girl Scouts of the United States of America.

The Manhattan federal case noted the two separate youth organizations have long coexisted. But problems arose when “core gender distinction” was altered by the Boy Scouts of America, which announced in October 2017 it would open its doors to girls beginning in 2019. Earlier this year, the Boy Scouts unveiled new marketing campaign to back the effort. “Scout Me In,” the tagline proclaimed.

What happened here is pretty simple. And, frankly, pretty stupid on the part of the BSA. And we should acknowledge that Techdirt generally, and myself specifically, tend to advocate a more permissive attitude when it comes to trademark concerns. In this case, what BSA did was to rebrand itself without the “Boy”, instead recruiting girls into its ranks using the “Scouts BSA” branding and term. To be somewhat critical of the Girl Scouts, having that “BSA” in its name certainly does some work to differentiate it and call back to its original Boy Scouts of America name, but I’m not sure one could argue that “BSA” alleviates any concern. The Girl Scouts, of course, are still a thing. And this appears to have led to very real confusion in the marketplace.

In court papers, the Girl Scouts said the Boy Scouts’ rebranding announcement has created all kinds of brand confusion across the country.

For example, some Minnesota families looking to sign up their girls were erroneously told the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts have merged. Meanwhile, in Indiana and South Dakota, some parents mistakenly signed up their daughters to girls’ programs in the Boy Scouts.

Those are pretty clear cut examples. But, for some, this has become a tricky case. Most people view the Boy Scouts being more inclusive and allowing girls in as a good thing. Most people think the term “scout” is fairly generic at this point. Are we really to advocate that the GSA can keep BSA from including girls as scouts?

No, of course not. The problem here arose when BSA decided to brand itself by dropping the “Boy” instead of replacing it. If the branding and marketing material had instead replaced “Boy” with something else, particularly with a new name that used a different acronym, there wouldn’t be a problem. If BSA had decided to become the Field Scouts of America, for instance, confusion wouldn’t have been a thing. That it chose to do otherwise, knowing full well that the Girl Scouts exist, is actually fairly belligerant.

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Comments on “The Girl Scouts Sues The Boy Scouts Over Trademark”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Just a bit of history

The bsa organization has used the term scout(or scouter as the case may be) to refer to boys & girls for some time. They have allowed girls into the organization for other 30 years. The bsa org includes scouts (formerly boy scouts), venture, & Explorers. Now the latter two have admitted girls for a long, long, long time in every part. Whereas the previously referred boy scouts did admit girls into the program depending on the sponsor but limited girls from attaining eagle.

So there is the issue of trade mark dissolution.

David (profile) says:

Re: Re: Just a bit of history

My daughter was in the Boy Scouts of America 10 years ago. She was in the Venture program. If you had bothered to actually read the post, you would understand the difference.

I’ll see if I can get you to understand. The Boy Scouts of America has, for decades, had several programs. The first two, Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts have been boys only since inception. Venturing, Sea Scouts and Explorers have been coed since at least the 1970’s (when I was in high school). In 2008, we switched my daughter’s Girl Scout troop to a Venture crew because the Girl Scouts were so hard to work with. As a scout leader. I worked with female Explorers and Venturers for at least 10 years before that and girls were not new to these programs. What BSA announced last year is that Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts are going coed as well. This just means that all Boy Scouts of America programs are now coed. Considering that Scouting in most of the world is coed, this is just them catching up with the rest of the world.

killthelawyers (profile) says:

Re: Re: Just a bit of history

Beginning in 2019, girls will be allowed to participate, at least in some form, in all parts of the BSA program. Explorers/Venturing* have been co-ed since 1969, but those programs are limited to members between the ages of 14 and 20.

*Confusingly, the Explorer program was superseded by Venturing. However, the Explorer name lives on, but refers to the completely different Learning for Life program, which focuses on exploring career and life preparation.

David (profile) says:

Re: Re: Just a bit of history

Maybe in the UK but not here. Both of my sons are Eagles. The U.S. military thinks enough of the Eagle that my son that is serving in the Navy received two promotions as soon as he graduated boot camp. This was only because of his Eagle. People that had 4 years of high school ROTC only received one.

slap (profile) says:

Re: Just a bit of history

Back in 1969 I was a Sea Explorer – Sea Explorers are part of the Explorer program for the Boy Scouts. We had several girls in our “ship” (the equivalent of a “troop”), and in 1971 I raced in the Sea Explorer sailing national championships, where there were a number of girls who were racing too (to race one would have to be a member of the Sea Explorers and not just be a guest at meetings and other activities).

K`Tetch (profile) says:

Fun history

i basically grew up around scoutign (the proper scouting, not the religious fundamentalist circle-jerk that is the US scouting) all my life.
I met the chief scout when I was 9, and 11, and 13. My summer holidays most years were the family campout that the scout troop my dad ran (well, he ran the group, his best friend was the group treasurer, his other best friend was the scout leader, his wife was the cub leader, her best friend was the assistant cub leader, and her husband was the beaver leader. Later my dad started dating the assistant commissioner – and good friend, also our barber -‘s ex wife, who was a scout leader for a neighbouring troop, and ended up marrying the cub leader from another pack in the district. Even today, 15 years after I left the UK, I still find old CD copies of P-O-R – the basic rulebook for running a group – in various old boxes/bags. I know scouting…)

US scouting was deemed a backwards group. one where the focus was on looking good and pious, and not on the ideals of Lord Baden Powell. Even now, I live near one of the biggest scout campsites/bases in the US, and I find them.. a bit vapid. I spent a few hours assisting a friend the other day supervising some 8th and 9th graders (he’s the equipment manager for the marching band, as well as chair of the county board of education, while I assist with everything with the band, from first aid to loading, fixing instruments, and anything technological) and they were discussing ‘eagle scout projects’, where it was seen more as a chore to be done, than anything else, just something you go through the motions on to put on a college transcript.

putting all that aside for now, the scout movement was started by Lord Robert Baden Powell. You know what his wife did? Started the Girl Guides. They’re partner organisations. Except in the US, where it seems they’re in competition. And I have to say, that these days, the Girl Scouts seem to be less a scouting organisation, and more a cookie-sales apprenticeship scheme.

The US orgs have gotten too full of their own self-import, and are completely up their own woggle. both of them are so desperate to try and keep to the puritan ways of their foundings (remember, the GSA was started by a high class-lady from Savannah in 1912, looking for something for the bored girl-childs of the well-to-do of the area to do.

Or to put it another way, I may have a wood badge (a proper one, not that american knockoff) but my kids never joined the scouts (boys or girls) – instead we ended up forming a navigators ( group int he city, because in 2015, the BSA was more regressive than the UK Scouting Association was in 1980.

If you’ve reached this part, congrats, have a BSA merit badge. I get quite ranty sometimes. I’ll probably post some pithy comments in another post to try for funniest comment of the week to counteract this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Fun history

A fair evaluation (I too come from a family heavily involved in it, with my aunt and mother running the Scouts and Guides in my hometown, respectively) of how the whole mess looks to us UK peeps.

“The US orgs have gotten too full of their own self-import, and are completely up their own woggle.”
almost had my tea coming out of my nose.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Fun history

It’s not a fair evaluation at all. The vast majority of scout groups are nothing like that. It’s that vocal minority, as it is for virtually any group at all. I was in scouting all my life as well, in several states, and I never saw any of the issues that other nations claim are “rampant” in US groups.

K`Tetch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Fun history

you don’t see it, because your baseline of ‘normal’ is different from that elsewhere.

Me and AC were in the original, the one that had the founding traditions set, and kept at that. you’re in an offshoot, that kinda went its own way and has its own setup.

naturally, you think that the normal is ok, and its only the extremists that make you look bad, when I’m telling you, what you consider ‘normal’, are what we in the original already considered ‘coming with a pomposity badge’, and it’s not even well earned, as most are somewhat behind other countries in their skills and abilities.

DB (profile) says:

The term “Scouts” and “Scouting” have been used by the Boy Scouts for decades. They were the broad terms covering Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Explorers and Sea Scouts. So it’s not a new use of the term.

There is a bit of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” going on here. There were increasingly frequent minor issues because of the gender discrimination. Traditional activities such as marching in parades or using government facilities would become unexpectedly complicated because of broadly worded ‘equal opportunity’ laws. The same rule that was intended to keep the KKK from marching in the 4th of July parade or reserving the picnic area of a park for a rally applied to a Boy Scout troop that didn’t allow girls full membership.

The Boy Scouts took a major step forward in eliminating gender discrimination. It was a divisive issue, and the change cost them a huge amount of support. The LDS (Mormon) church used to a major charter sponsor of scout troops. In May 2018 they announced they were eliminating all support. That means that 20% of scout troops will need to find new sponsors or dissolve.

nae such says:

Re: Re:

yes but the lds also run a whole bunch of troops that in theory will be replaced as well. apparently they plan to "implement a uniform youth leadership and development program that serves its members globally." those troop members pay for some of their own supplies though. i tried to find numbers for how that would look population and finance wise but didn’t succeed.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That means that 20% of scout troops will need to find new sponsors or dissolve.

Those troops are made up of members of the church or friends of members. The church is going to institute its own program in place of BSA participation, so the kids will not go looking for a new troop, the troop will cease to exist and the kids will participate in the new program. As a result, BSA or whatever they’re called now is going to take a big hit in membership and the money that comes with it. I’m curious how that will play out for them.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

It's a real problem

Let’s see, you say the right new trademark would have solved everything…

  • "Boy and Girl Scouts of America"
  • "People Scouts of America"
  • "Inclusive Scouts of America"
  • "Universal Scouts of America"

No, I’m sorry, that won’t work. The problem is that the Boy Scouts new market encompasses the Girl Scouts market. Any name that combines inclusion with "Scouts of America" is going to have that problem.

But I suspect the GSA had better just get used to being relegated to the junk heap, crushed by BSA. Trolls do that.

Matthew A. Sawtell (profile) says:

So... shuffling deck chairs as the ship sinks then?

While the politics of this have been amusing to watch from afar, the real numbers (i.e. declining membership year after year) paint a grim picture. Figure the scouts (boy, girl, etc.) will be going the way of the dodo in a few years.

As for the lawsuits – Boy Scouts have NOTHING to say on this matter, given how they have used lawsuits in the past:

Paul Brinker (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Knowing a Girl Scout leader, the rules for boys being around the girls at all are just nuts, boys are 10 feet behind the troop, tents are 100 feet away from the girls. Some of the rules are so bad they become safety hazards, however the girl scout org would rather drop a troop then allow equal rights with boys.

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