The recruiting pitches are strikingly familiar: Character-building and leadership opportunities for girls await in time-honored scouting programs.
But in a filing in federal court last week, the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. said this wasn’t its recruitment message, but that of a rival organization — the Boy Scouts of America — that it accused of engaging in unfair competition and trademark infringement.
The filing by the Girl Scouts on Christmas Eve in U.S. District Court in Manhattan was the latest salvo in a legal and public relations feud between the two organizations, one that was set in motion after the Boy Scouts’ announcement in October 2017 that it would broadly accept girls to its programs.
The filing said the Boy Scouts had removed gender-specific language from some of its marketing materials that solely referred to scouts and scouting, a violation of a congressional charter that governs the organization.
The filing, which was part of a lawsuit filed by the Girl Scouts in 2018, also said that the “Scout Me In” recruiting campaign of the Boy Scouts featured girls in advertisements. Some local Boy Scouts groups used the phrase “Girl Scouting,” the filing said, further infringing on longstanding trademarks granted to the Girl Scouts by Congress. The Girl Scouts called the overtures “highly damaging.”
“For the last century, the Girl Scouts trademark has become understood to designate the source of scouting services for girls,” the filing said. “Now, because of what Boy Scouts has done, that distinctiveness is being slowly eroded, and the law affords Girl Scouts a remedy to stop such a further loss of distinctiveness.”
The Boy Scouts of America denied engaging in deceptive marketing to boost its enrollment of girls, saying in a statement on Sunday that young people and their families were attracted to the organization for a variety of reasons, including love of outdoor adventure, personal connections to programs and the goal of becoming an Eagle Scout.
“To imply that confusion is a prevailing reason for their choice is not only inaccurate — with no legally admissible instance of this offered to date in the case,” the Boy Scouts said, “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 since the programs became available to them.”
The decision by the Boy Scouts organization to accept girls came as its membership dwindled in recent decades. In 2017, the organization said that it had 2.3 million members between the ages of 7 and 21 and nearly a million volunteers throughout the United States and its territories. That was less than half the estimated five million members that the Boy Scouts, incorporated in 1910, had at its peak in the 1970s. Earlier this year, the Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy protection.
The shift in membership guidelines immediately caused tensions between the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, with one Girl Scouts national executive saying that the organization was “blindsided” by the announcement and that girls thrived in all-female groups.
A little more than a year later, the Girl Scouts sued the Boy Scouts in federal court in Manhattan for trademark infringement, dilution, unfair competition, tortious interference with prospective economic advantage and deceptive business practices. In the lawsuit, the Girl Scouts said that parents had mistakenly signed girls up for new programs offered by the Boy Scouts instead of for Girl Scouts programs.
The Boy Scouts have sought to have the lawsuit dismissed and said it lacked merit.
In its statement on Sunday, the Boy Scouts said it had decided to accept girls into its programs after years of receiving requests from families who wanted the option of character-development and leadership programs run by the organization.
“We applaud every organization that builds character and leadership in children, including the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., and believe that all families and communities benefit from the opportunity to select the programs that best fit their needs,” the Boy Scouts said.