Girls to Face Boys in a Federal Trademark Suit Over ‘Scout’ Term

November 7, 2018

A year after the Boy Scouts of America announced it would admit girls, the Girl Scouts of the United States of America punched back Tuesday with a federal trademark lawsuit seeking to block the boys group from rebranding its flagship program simply as “Scouts.”

The Girl Scouts, called GSUSA in the filing, claim the move by the Boy Scouts will “marginalize” the female organization and “erode its core brand identity.” The Boy Scouts announced in May that it was changing its name to “Scouts BSA,” with members known as “Scouts.”

“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,” according to the complaint, filed Tuesday in Manhattan federal court. “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.”

In a statement late Tuesday, the Boy Scouts said it had decided to extend its offerings to girls “after years of requests from families who wanted the option of the BSA’s character- and leadership-development programs for their children — boys and girls” and that “there is an opportunity for both organizations to serve girls and boys in our communities.”

The case was filed as Americans went to the polls to vote in midterm elections in which the gender divide is stark and expected to influence the outcome. A record number of women are seeking office in the election, and the #MeToo exposure of workplace sexual harassment in the last year have crystallized voter opinion on candidates and social issues.

In the lawsuit, the Girl Scouts claim their right to use the “Scout” and “Scouting” marks in marketing to girls has long been recognized both by the law and by the Boy Scouts. But the Boy Scouts’ decision to open all of its programs to girls has crossed that line, according to the complaint.

The Girl Scouts seek 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.”

This isn’t the first time the two organizations tangled in court. A century ago, the Boy Scouts sued to block the Girl Scouts from using the name “Scout,” according to the Atlantic magazine.

The case is Girl Scouts of the United States of America v. Boy Scouts of America, 18-cv-10287, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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