Boy Scouts Win Trademark Lawsuit Filed by Girl Scouts

A lawsuit brought by the Girl Scouts against the Boy Scouts of America’s use of the word “scouting” in recruitment for co-ed programs has been tossed.

Federal judge Alvin K. Hellerstein rejected claims that the Boy Scouts brought confusion and hurt efforts by the Girl Scouts to recruit new members. The ruling allows the Boy Scouts to describe their programs as simply “scouts” or “scouting” without referring to gender.

In 2017 the Boy Scouts announced it would begin allowing girls to join and proceeded to change its main scouting program to “Scouts BSA.” The organization began accepting girls into its ranks in 2019, but the lawsuit was filed before the first girls joined the program.

The suit alleged using the terms without gender designation violated Girl Scouts’ trademarks, caused confusion among potential members, and may lead to marginalizing the organization. The Manhattan judge said trademark confusion had not been created and the filing was based on fear of losing members to the Boy Scouts because of rule changes.

Hellerstein added that the Boy Scouts’ decision to become co-ed “does not demonstrate bad faith.” The group currently has 305,000 girls enrolled since the change three years ago, and over 2,200 have become Eagle Scouts.

Both organizations are suffering dramatic declines in membership for several reasons, including the COVID-19 pandemic. On the BSA side, the Cub Scouts and Scouts BSA programs lost a whopping 43% of their membership from 2019 to 2020, while the Girl Scouts’ rolls plunged 30% in the same period.

The Texas-based Boy Scouts organization has been in bankruptcy proceedings for over two years. This comes after being named in hundreds of lawsuits filed by former members who say they were molested by scout leaders. Annual fees are increasing this year in response to the economic pressure, and BSA leadership says some iconic camp properties may have to be sold.

The Girl Scouts had nearly three million members less than two decades ago while the BSA boasted over 4 million active members in the 1970s. Societal changes and internal issues have caught up with both organizations, and their survival may well depend on working together rather than taking each other to court.