The Girl Scouts of America have filed a federal lawsuit in the Southern District of New York against the Boy Scouts of America. The Girl Scouts of America (GSUSA) allege that there is brand confusion now that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is admitting girls, which is a practice they began in 2017. Both organizations have traditionally been afforded distinct trademark protections under the law in view of the prior gender split, but now it appears BSA’s widened admittance policies have upset that peaceful coexistence.
“Scouting” and “Scout” usage in dispute
According to multiple reports in the media, the BSA is using the words “Scout” and “Scouting” without the “Boy” as part of its new gender neutral rebranding of its youth development programs. The GSUSA currently owns trademarks incorporating “Scout” and “Scouting” for use with goods and services involving girls and young women.
According to the complaint in the pending litigation: “BSA is now using its trademarks in a manner that is both new and uniquely damaging to GSUSA. 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.”
Confusion among parents
The two organizations have each been around for more than a century. They are different entities, but they have worked together at times to make sure that there is no confusion over their respective trademarks.
The GSUSA now alleges that there is substantial confusion among parents who are simply trying to sign up their girls as “Girl Scouts.” Apparently, representatives for the BSA have used language and slogans that have long been associated with the GSUSA. Some groups affiliated with the BSA are also now apparently listed online as “Girl Scouts” or “Girl Scout BSA,” and the complaint alleges other forms of confusion deriving from inclusion of BSA-related search results in response to queries such as “Girl Scouts” or the like.
Moreover, the media are reporting other examples of apparent confusion between the two organization deriving from the use of images. More particularly, it is reported that adult members of the BSA are attempting to confuse or misdirect consumers – for example by claiming the two organizations have merged – to bolster enrollment.
Heading for court
BSA has not yet filed its answer to the GSUSA complaint (from which many of the accusations outlined above were taken), and we are still waiting to hear the “other side of the story.” However, it seems that, at least for now, the dispute will be hashed out in court. This case serves as a reminder that even longstanding commercial relationships can sour, and that an organization should seek to mitigate risk by obtaining the advice of a qualified attorney as soon as possible prior to the initiation of high-stakes litigation.