Girl Scouts Continuing To Fight Boy Scouts Of America Over Trademarks, Branding

from the scout's-honor dept

While Techdirt generally and myself more specifically tend to fall on the side of a more permissive philosophy when it comes to policing trademarks, there are certainly times when one entity or another crosses the line. As it happens, it seems somewhat common that those lines get crossed by parties that have themselves been quite aggressive in policing their own IP. When the Girl Scouts of America (GSA) sued the Boy Scouts of America in 2018 over the rebranding BSA went through after finally allowing girls to join, it was not difficult to see the GSA's side of things. Essentially, what was The Boy Scouts of America became simply Scouts BSA, which did away with the core gender distinction that drew a shiny line between the two organizations in the public sphere. GSA provided real world examples of confusion in the public, with stories of some families thinking or being told that BSA and GSA had merged, and others having intended on signing their daughters up for GSA and ending up in Scouts BSA.

In the end, this ultimately was caused by the cavalier attitude Scouts BSA took to its rebranding. A moment's thought would immediately have brought these concerns to light, but Scouts BSA plowed ahead.

And now that cavalier attitude appears to have continued, with GSA issuing another filing against BSA over further rebranding efforts its undertaken.

In its filing, the Girl Scouts said the Boy Scouts’ marketing of expanded services for girls was “extraordinary and highly damaging to Girl Scouts” and had set off an “explosion of confusion."

“As a result of Boy Scouts’ infringement, parents have mistakenly enrolled their daughters in Boy Scouts thinking it was Girl Scouts,” the lawyers said, adding that this never occurred before 2018.

At issue here are numerous instances of Scouts BSA groups either blurring the lines in recruitment advertisements, or outright creating confusion. In the cases that are less clear-cut, GSA alleges that Scouts BSA advertised recruitment referencing simply "scouting" or "scout me in" alongside images of young women. In the more clear instances of sowing confusion, Scouts BSA groups advertised "girl scouting", which seems like a fairly flagrant infringement of GSA's trademarks.

And then there are some allegations that are nearly too brazen to believe.

The lawyers said Boy Scouts councils in Illinois acknowledging improperly using the Girl Scouts’ slogan in Cub Scout recruiting materials and pictures of Girl Scouts to promote a Boy Scouts “Scouts Sign-Up Night!”

They said a western Massachusetts Boy Scouts council posted a recruiting flyer on Facebook including a photograph of a girl depicted in her Girl Scouts Brownie uniform.

Meanwhile, Ohio Boy Scouts used the Girl Scouts trademark to try to get a local newspaper to write an article, suggesting a storyline entitled “Boy and Girl Scouts Looking for Members” even though the recruitment involved only the Boy Scouts, the lawyers said.

This, again, from an organization that has a fairly clear track record as being quite aggressive in the enforcement of its own IP. Hell, back before the rebrand, the BSA lobbied Congress for its own special law to allow it to be an even bigger trademark bully.

All of which is to say that it's very hard to be on Scouts BSA's side of any of this.

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Filed Under: boyscouts, confusion, girl scouts, scouts, trademark
Companies: boy scouts of america, girl scouts of america


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2020 @ 1:35am

    This is SO much easier in the UK...

    America's scouting orgs are so confusing to someone who grew up in ours here, where they have clearly differentiated names (Scouts and Guides) and different focuses which are a legacy of their highly gendered origins but have both taken to allowing anyone in and so neither has a real need to rebrand since the distinct names help let you know what they provide.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2020 @ 3:15am

    All the scouting organizations in the Netherlands combined - I think it was in 1973. It's split off by subject - you have land, air, water and horse scouts - but it's not split by gender.

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

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 30 Dec 2020 @ 6:05am

    Confused

    Wait, women fought tooth and nail to get the BSA to allow girls, and now the GSA is upset because they now advertise the fact that they gave in and allow girls to join? Does the GSA actually want the BSA to go back to not allowing girls, or merely not advertise the fact that girls are now welcome to join?

    Still waiting for the GSA to advertise that boys are welcome to join...
    ;)

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

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 30 Dec 2020 @ 8:12am

      Re: Confused

      the GSA is upset because they now advertise the fact that they gave in and allow girls to join?

      No.

      Does the GSA actually want the BSA to go back to not allowing girls, or merely not advertise the fact that girls are now welcome to join?

      No.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2020 @ 8:20am

      Re: Confused

      So many things wrong here. Conflating women and GSA (which is definitely a much smaller subset of women). Further more in no way does the article suggest that GSA is complaining Scouts BSA is recruiting girls, just that they pretending to be GSA (a very slight oversimplification)

      It's like the commenter didn't read the article at all.

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

      • icon
        JoeCool (profile), 31 Dec 2020 @ 8:57am

        Re: Re: Confused

        It's like you didn't read it. There's little the BSA can do to advertise to girls that the GSA doesn't seem to have an issue with. As the next replier mentions, anything that doesn't at least resemble ads the GSA might make will all come across as bizarre or clunky. The GSA has had decades to work out ads for getting girls to join, and those same methods would need to be used by the BSA to appeal to girls. Naturally, those ads will seem very similar and MUST to generate the same appeal.

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

        • icon
          JoeCool (profile), 31 Dec 2020 @ 8:58am

          Re: Re: Re: Confused

          Sorry, not the next replier, but an AC a couple down.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 31 Dec 2020 @ 12:13pm

          Re: Re: Re: Confused

          Yeah I suppose the following::

          Scouts BSA (Formerly Boy Scouts America) now recruiting girl as well as boys

          Is a totally fictional phrasing and no actual person is capable of using it. And obviously any other such phrasings (especially ones that don't use GSA imagery or slogans) are equally fictional.

          Yep you are absolutely right, Scouts BSA had not choice but to pretend to be GSA.

          /s

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

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 30 Dec 2020 @ 6:51pm

      Boys in the GSA

      Since the eighties, at least, boys have officially been allowed to join the GSA. But this has happened so rarely it's hard to say what their policy is in practice.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2020 @ 6:12am

    I don't know if the article is intentionally written to imply that the Scouts should not be allowed to become gender-neutral or advertise their services to girls just because archaic gender segregation is the only difference between the the two organizations, but that's what it does.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2020 @ 2:02pm

    " In the more clear instances of sowing confusion, Scouts BSA groups advertised "girl scouting", which seems like a fairly flagrant infringement of GSA's trademarks. "
    Interesting - so how should they phrase it, "boy scouting for girls"? And what difference would that make? If a scouting organization is open to girls, it is quite difficult not to mention the words "scouting" and "girls" in the recruiting advert. They could try with "female scouting" though. Or "gender independent scouting". But it does not seem very attractive to me.

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

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 30 Dec 2020 @ 6:49pm

    Girls but not gays

    I'm pretty sure the BSA policy is to allow for gay troopers and troop leaders at the discretion of the regional leadership which essentially punts the issue to the communities.

    While I know less about the Girl Scouts, they have always been more inclusive than the Boy Scouts, and that's still a pretty low bar.

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


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