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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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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2018 @ 9:03pm

    None of them are scouts of any description whatsoever, so that is pretty confusing from the get-go. Campfire Girls knew the score.

    Welcome to the Scout-Branded Peeps of America (and also other places).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2018 @ 9:12pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2018 @ 9:52pm

    Re: Just a bit of history

    the Boy Scouts of America, which announced in October 2017 it would open its doors to girls beginning in 2019

    All lies, huh?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    K`Tetch (profile), 13 Nov 2018 @ 10:03pm

    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 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navigators_USA) 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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    DB (profile), 13 Nov 2018 @ 10:05pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    K`Tetch (profile), 13 Nov 2018 @ 10:07pm

    Re: Just a bit of history

    "attaining eagle"
    or as it was always called when we spotted one in the UK - "the self-importance badge"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    K`Tetch (profile), 13 Nov 2018 @ 10:10pm

    Aren't the girl scouts just a front for Wilford Brimley's diabetus supply company? You buy those samosas until it's too late, then his moustache has you by the blood-sugar tester.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2018 @ 10:45pm

    Re: Fun history

    Good luck on funniest. You'll have to compete with out of the blue and his army of trademark morons in a hurry.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Agammamon, 13 Nov 2018 @ 11:42pm

    knowing full well that the Girl Scouts exist, is actually fairly belligerant.

    Seriously?

    I think you're overstating that. If a modifier is enough to distinguish between the two brands - then why isn't 'Girl' enough?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 14 Nov 2018 @ 12:56am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2018 @ 4:00am

    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.

    Also,
    "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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Steve, 14 Nov 2018 @ 4:10am

    "That it chose to do otherwise, knowing full well that the Girl Scouts exist, is actually fairly belligerant"

    I'm sorry, but I still don't see why. I think this article may be written for the trademark cognoscenti, which I regret not being a part of.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    david longfellow, 14 Nov 2018 @ 5:05am

    Boy Scouts

    Sounds like the Boy Scouts are well on their way to complete irrelevance.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2018 @ 5:16am

    Re: Boy Scouts

    I think it's fundamentalist religious circle jerk is the biggest contributor to this. Atheism is the fastest growing 'religion' in the country.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2018 @ 5:27am

    They wouldn't have had this problem if the Girl Scouts had called themselves Girl Guides, as they do in several other countries.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    David (profile), 14 Nov 2018 @ 5:52am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    David (profile), 14 Nov 2018 @ 5:56am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    DannyB (profile), 14 Nov 2018 @ 6:06am

    Re: Just a bit of history

    Do the Girl Scouts allow boys to join?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    JoeCool (profile), 14 Nov 2018 @ 6:16am

    Re: Re: Just a bit of history

    No, and they've already announced that the change in the Boy Scouts will not change that. Girl Scouts is only for girls.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    JoeCool (profile), 14 Nov 2018 @ 6:20am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    JoeCool (profile), 14 Nov 2018 @ 6:27am

    The Problem

    The problem is that with the official inclusion of girls in all parts of the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts have finally realized there's no future for their organization, which served as a front to a free cookie sales force. The money alone will keep the GSA lawyers in court fighting however they can to keep that free labor from moving on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    tom (profile), 14 Nov 2018 @ 6:29am

    I was an Explorer scout in the mid 70s and my group did have girls in it. Not exactly a new concept for Scouting.

    Of course, if they wanted to be accurate in their naming, BSA could always call themselves Boy and Girl Scouts. Pretty sure that would get several banks of lawyers fully activated.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2018 @ 6:44am

    Re: Re: Re: Just a bit of history

    I see. Thanks for confirming that the claim that "it would open its doors to girls beginning in 2019" is apparently just a marketing lie, since they have already been open.

    If you had bothered to actually read the post...

    I did. Fuck you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. icon
    rick (profile), 14 Nov 2018 @ 6:59am

    The Boy Scouts existed before the Girl Scouts. Shouldn't they go after the GS for trademark?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    nae such, 14 Nov 2018 @ 7:08am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. icon
    killthelawyers (profile), 14 Nov 2018 @ 7:12am

    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](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venturing#History), 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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2018 @ 7:17am

    Re: Re: Re: Just a bit of history

    kinda making the point

    its important because people in the us think it's important.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Matthew A. Sawtell, 14 Nov 2018 @ 7:24am

    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:

    http://articles.latimes.com/2013/aug/20/business/la-fi-tn-boy-scouts-threaten-hacker-scouts2013 0819

    https://www.casemine.com/judgement/us/59146922add7b049342d203c

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2018 @ 7:39am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Just a bit of history

    Haven't had your covfefe yet?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2018 @ 7:44am

    This is really stupid, don't they have better things to do ... like hang out in front of the grocery store harassing those who are in need of groceries?

    No thanks, I do not need any pop corn or cookies thanks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    Paul Brinker, 14 Nov 2018 @ 7:48am

    Re:

    The new Scouts BSA also covers transgender, and non binary youth. Partly because of the equal opportunity laws and partly because of our ideals today that say the kid should make the decision when they get older.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2018 @ 7:54am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Just a bit of history

    Boys, BOYS! Scratch that.

    Kids, KIDS!!

    Easy Billie!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2018 @ 7:58am

    Have there been any Boyscouts trying to get into the girlscouts? I know I would have tried if that sort of thing hadn't been frowned upon when I was in the boyscouts!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. identicon
    bob, 14 Nov 2018 @ 8:16am

    lol

    Just call themselves the BSAGs. Boy Scouts of America and Girls.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. identicon
    Paul Brinker, 14 Nov 2018 @ 8:33am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. icon
    slap (profile), 14 Nov 2018 @ 9:18am

    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).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. identicon
    Slow Joe Crow, 14 Nov 2018 @ 9:29am

    Consider alternatives

    Maybe the BSA should rebrand as the Young Pioneers, it's gender neutral and I think the trademarks are available

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2018 @ 9:34am

    Re: Re:

    ..girlscout org would rather drop a troop than to allow equal rights with boys..

    This is all Hillary's fault.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2018 @ 9:40am

    Re: Consider alternatives

    The BSA isn't pioneering much if they're all standing around bickering with the women who are obviously out of their control..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2018 @ 9:41am

    Re: Consider alternatives

    If they'd like to sever their association with all of the other international Scouting organizations, sure.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41. icon
    crade (profile), 14 Nov 2018 @ 10:18am

    I was trying to figure out why the rest of the world didn't have this problem way back when we accepted girls and dropped the "Boy" from Scouts... Apparently it's because Baden Powell was ahead of this issue when he founded the organization and named them "Girl Guides" :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42. icon
    NeghVar (profile), 14 Nov 2018 @ 10:36am

    So gender discrimination works only one way.
    Company A hires only women and no one cares. Company B hires only men, at its a lawsuit that makes the international headlines.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2018 @ 11:05am

    Re: Re: Boy Scouts

    Even you know you’re wrong. That why you put quotation marks around religion.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44. icon
    K`Tetch (profile), 14 Nov 2018 @ 12:01pm

    Re: Re: Fun history

    :-) I tried to be funny.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45. icon
    K`Tetch (profile), 14 Nov 2018 @ 12:08pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2018 @ 2:02pm

    If it's BOY Scouts, it means BOY!!! Girls have Girl Scouts!!! I don't see the problem here or why it just HAD to be opened up for everyone. Then it's no longer the BOY SCOUTS!!!

    End Boy scouts, and call it Scouts. Or Boy & Girl Scouts, or whatever the case may be. Stop calling it what it no longer is.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47. icon
    nasch (profile), 14 Nov 2018 @ 8:43pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48. icon
    K`Tetch (profile), 15 Nov 2018 @ 10:43am

    Re: Re:

    but NOT parentage.
    important point there.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49. icon
    bhull242 (profile), 19 Nov 2018 @ 2:13pm

    Correction on timing

    Actually, I’m pretty sure that BSA had the trademark for “Scouting BSA” for decades. They tried using it but the parents and Scouts complained so changed it back, but they still owned relevant trademarks.

    So no, there’s nothing belligerent about what BSA has done here. It’s just GSA being petty.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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