Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts Locked in Trademark Battle

January 31, 2019
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The Girl Scouts of America Recently Filed a Trademark Infringement Lawsuit Against the Boy Scouts of America

As the Boy Scouts of America begins to allow girls into its ranks, it’s coexistence with the Girl Scouts of the United States of America is on shaky ground. In a trademark infringement lawsuit filed in New York district court, the Girl Scouts of the United States of America (Girls Scouts or GSUSA) allege that Boys Scouts of America (Boy Scouts or BSA) is causing significant consumer confusion with the way it is touting its new programs.

Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts Locked in Trademark Battle
Photo courtesy of Emma Tin (Unsplash.com)

“BSA is now using its trademarks in a manner that is both new and uniquely damaging to GSUSA,” the complaint in Girl Scouts of the United States of America v. Boy Scouts of America maintains. “Such misconduct will … marginalize the Girl Scouts movement by causing the public to believe that GSUSA’s extraordinarily successful services are not true or official ‘Scouting’ programs.”

Boy Scouts New “Scouts” Program

The Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts both have congressional charters under which they are granted the exclusive rights to emblems, badges, marks and words associated with “Girl Scouts” and “Boy Scouts,” respectively. While each organization offers youth development services and programs with the word “Scout,” “Scouts” and “Scouting”, the terms have traditionally either been preceded by words like “Boy” or “Girl” that have highlighted the gender-specific nature of each organization’s programs, or appeared in a context making clear that the programs at issue were developed by one organization or the other.

Last year, the Boy Scouts announced that it would begin admitting girls. In May, the organization further announced that it was changing the name of the organization to “Scouts BSA” and that its members would be called “Scouts.” In connection with these changes, the Boy Scouts launched the Scout Me In campaign, which the Boy Scouts says celebrates its “expansion to serve families and welcome girls and boys into Scouting in communities across the country.”

Girls Scouts Allegations of Trademark Infringement

The Girl Scouts’ trademark infringement lawsuit maintains that the Boy Scouts’ new programs for girls and associated marketing campaigns are infringing their right to use the “Scout” and “Scouting” marks in marketing to girls. According to the suit: “With respect to the term SCOUTS and SCOUTING in particular, by virtue of the long history of use of the GIRL SCOUTS trademark by GSUSA, the consuming public has come to recognize SCOUTS and SCOUTING as trademarks that, like the other GS Marks, belong exclusively to GSUSA when used in connection with leadership programs and related services for girls. The Girl Scouts further maintain:

BSA does not have the right under either federal or New York law to use terms like SCOUTS or SCOUTING by themselves in connection with services offered to girls, or to rebrand itself as “the Scouts” and thereby falsely communicate to the American public that it is now the organization exclusively associated with leadership development services offered under that mark to girls. Such misconduct will not only cause confusion among the public, damage the goodwill of GSUSA’s GIRL SCOUTS trademarks, and erode its core brand identity, but it will also marginalize the GIRL SCOUTS Movement by causing the public to believe that GSUSA’s extraordinarily successful services are not true or official “Scouting” programs, but niche services with limited utility and appeal.

The Girl Scouts’ complaint also argues that the Boy Scouts’ trademark misuse is leading to widespread consumer confusion. “Since BSA’s announcement that it would admit girls to its core programs, GSUSA’s fears about the damage that would be caused to its trademarks and the mission those trademarks symbolize have been realized,” the complaint states. “Throughout the country, families, schools and communities have been told that GSUSA and BSA have merged, or even that GSUSA no longer exists. Parents interested in signing up for Girl Scouts programs have instead mistakenly signed up for the new girls’ programs offered by BSA.”

This is not the first lawsuit between the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts. In 1915, when the Girl Guides changed their name to “Girl Scouts”, the Boy Scouts sued them, alleging that they has “sissified” the word “Scout”.

The pending Girl Scouts’ suit seeks a court order blocking the Boy Scouts from using the term “Scout,” “Scouts,” “Scouting” or “Scouts BSA” without an “inherently distinctive or distinguishing term appearing immediately before it.” We will report on further developments.

If you have any questions, please contact us

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, David Einhorn, or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work, at 201-806-3364.