This week Girl Scouts of the USA filed a trademark lawsuit against the Boy Scouts.
Specifically, GSUSA objects to the other organization’s new name, Scouts BSA. Members would be known as “Scouts.” The Boy Scouts embraced this new name following its 2017 decision to admit girls to its ranks.
GSUSA argues that the gender-neutral “Scouts BSA” is confusing. The public might mistakenly believe that the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have merged into a new organization or that the Girl Scouts no longer exist.
According to the complaint (Case 1:18-cv-10287):
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 Boy Scouts have long clouded the waters by appropriating “scouting” for its online identity. The organization’s URL is http://www.scouting.org, not http://www.boyscouts.org. (Girl Scouts use http://www.girlscouts.org.)
What is a Trademark?
Trademarks are names. Trademark infringement is a form of identity theft. If you discovered someone using your name, you’d tell them to knock it off too.
According to the website Market Business News:
A trademark is a sign or symbol we can use to distinguish our business’ goods or services from those of other enterprises. It is a symbol, word or words legally registered or established by long-term use as representing a company or its product.
Market Business News
Here We Go Again
Girl Scouts of the USA is 106 years old. It has had name disputes with the Boy Scouts for at least 105 years.
For years, BSA Chief James E. West repeatedly threatened to sue the Girl Scouts because our use of the term “sissified” and “trivialized” the word “scout.” In 1924 he even had a lawsuit drawn up, but never filed it.
I recently discovered another identity crisis in the minutes of the January 1978 GSUSA Board of Directors meeting:
“Reports have been received from councils about the use of this term which is confusing to local committees. No meeting has been arranged as yet with the Boy Scout President. The United Way has been inadvertently promoting Scouting/USA and has been made aware of the problem and our position. The Board will be kept informed of any further developments.”
GSUSA Board of Directors meeting minutes, January 1978
In 1977, the Boy Scouts rebranded themselves as “Scouting/USA.” Officials explained that the word “boy” offended minority troops and girls in Explorer posts. They also regarded Scouting/USA as an umbrella term that would encompass Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Explorers. That very same argument has been offered to justify the current Scouts BSA label.
The result was confusion, as indicated by the Board Minutes. The Girl Scouts objected, and the new name faded into obscurity.
Hopefully, this latest round will be settled quickly and amicably as well.
More on Intellectual Property
Trademarks, like copyright and patent, are all forms of intellectual property. Juliette Gordon Low was awarded two patents herself, one for the membership pin and one for a freestanding trash can.
To help teach girls about these concepts, the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital and the US Patent and Trademark Office teamed up in 2012 to create a patch program.
©2018 Ann Robertson