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Trademark Dispute Between Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts Heats Up

TACOMA, WA - FEBRUARY 08: An Eagle Scout Award is seen pinned to a female Scouts uniform during a ceremony recognizing the inaugural class of female Eagle Scouts at the Creighton Scouting Center, home of the Pacific Harbors Council of the Boy Scouts of America, on February 8, 2021 in Tacoma, Washington. Nine young women from the region were recognized at the ceremony, which was held on the 111th anniversary of the founding of the Boy Scouts of America. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
By Laura Temme, Esq. on July 27, 2021 11:14 AM

Oral arguments were held this week in a trademark dilution suit filed by the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. against the Boy Scouts of America. If you thought the cookie-selling tactics were intense, this rivalry will knock your merit badges off.

The Boy Scouts began removing gender-specific language from some marketing materials following its 2017 decision to allow girls into its programs. The organization is still called the Boy Scouts of America, but the best-known program is now "Scouts BSA," which refers to members simply as "scouts." Marketing materials used slogans like "Scout Me In."

This didn't sit well with the Girl Scouts, and the organization filed suit in 2018, claiming trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and unfair competition.

Background

It's understandable that the two organizations are often assumed to be affiliated. Their missions are essentially the same: providing leadership and character-building opportunities for young people, often through outdoor activities. Both have existed for more than one hundred years. They both find their roots in Great Britain's turn-of-the-century Scouting movement.

However, according to the Girl Scouts, the "core gender distinction" between the two organizations was the key to avoiding confusion. A distinction that the BSA has now altered by offering its programs to both boys and girls.

We Didn't Mean to, Scout's Honor

It's an interesting case, especially given that the suit is coming from the organization founded second. And that's precisely BSA's argument - that the Girl Scouts knew confusion was a possibility when the organization changed its name from Girl Guides in 1913. BSA says the lawsuit is "utterly meritless, and should have never been filed."

The Girl Scouts argue using materials that solely refer to "scouts," and "scouting" violates the BSA's congressional charter and leads to confusion. They allege that many parents are signing girls up for Scouts BSA programs when they're trying to join the Girl Scouts. The BSA says this claim is "is not only inaccurate...but it is also dismissive of the decisions of more than 120,000 girls and young women who have joined Cub Scouts or Scouts BSA."

Boy Scouts of America has moved for summary judgment.

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