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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