Girls rule, boys … well, infringe on trademarks and damage the goodwill of brands.
That’s the heart of the federal lawsuit filed by the Girl Scouts of the United States of America against its sibling Boy Scouts of America Tuesday. The two congressionally chartered organizations have long been known for providing gender-based service and empowerment programming.
Yet the comity between the groups has broken down over the Boy Scouts’ decision to begin offering enrollment to children of both genders.
According to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the Girl Scouts alleged that their counterpart’s decision to simply go by the name “the Scouts,” while trading on the history of the Girl Scouts, not only violates their trademark, but will be “uniquely damaging” to the group’s efforts going forward.
“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 complaint contends.
In October 2017, the Boy Scouts announced plans to allow girls to join their ranks for the first time.
“We believe it is critical to evolve how our programs meet the needs of families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their children,” Michael Surbaugh, BSA’s chief scout executive, said in a statement at the time. “We strive to bring what our organization does best—developing character and leadership for young people—to as many families and youth as possible as we help shape the next generation of leaders.”
Since then, according to the complaint, the Girl Scouts’ fears about this decision to its trademarks and mission “have been realized.” Families, schools, and communities have been told the two groups have merged, the Girl Scouts claim, or worse, that the Girl Scouts no longer exist. Parents have been mistakenly signing up for new girl programs being offered by the Boy Scouts. Boy Scout groups have used the other program’s trademarks in materials, and have even used quotations from the Girl Scouts’ founder to promote new Boy Scouts services.
Beyond the material issues for the organization and its 2 million girl members, the complaint argues the move has the potential to harm the very population at the core of the dispute.
“Many millions of girls have participated in and benefited from GSUSA’s services, which are founded on research showing that girls learn best in environments led by girls, through programs tailored specifically for girls,” the Girl Scouts contend.
The suit alleges trademark infringement, unfair competition, and dilution on behalf of the Boy Scouts under both federal and New York state law. On top of demanding an injunction to halt any use of confusing or similar language, the complaint calls for the withdrawal of trademark applications for new slogans sought by the Boy Scouts, such as “Scouts BSA.”
New York-based Dorsey & Whitney partner Bruce Ewing represents the Girl Scouts. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a statement sent by a spokesman, the Girl Scouts said it does not comment on pending litigation, before adding that the “filing and the claims therein speak for themselves.”
The organization continued: “The action Girl Scouts took today are in keeping with standard practice in any field, and we did what any brand, company, corporation, or organization would do to protect its intellectual property, the value of its brand in the marketplace, and to defend its good name.”
A spokeswoman with the Boy Scouts sent a statement on behalf of the organization, which said it is reviewing the filing. On their programs, the organization defended its decision to start accepting girls into the program, saying the call was made “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.”
“We believe that we owe it to our current and future members to offer families the options they want,” the organization stated. “We applaud every organization that builds character and leadership in children, including the Girl Scouts of the USA, and believe that there is an opportunity for both organizations to serve girls and boys in our communities.”