Girl Scouts vs. Boy Scouts

Who gets to use SCOUT for activities for girls?

  • In 1916, Congress formed the “Boy Scouts of America” and granted it the exclusive right to use the trademarks it adopts.[1]
  • In 1950, Congress formed the “Girl Scouts” and granted it the exclusive right to use the trademarks it adopts.
  • In 2017, the BSA starting allowing girls to join to stop the hemorrhaging of their membership.[2] Soon after, the BSA ran an ad campaign using SCOUT ME IN and renamed its scouting program SCOUTS BSA so it didn’t include the word “boy.”[3]

The Girl Scouts has asked a court to rule that BSA’s use of SCOUT to market to girls violates the Girl Scouts’ trademark rights.

The BSA and the Girl Scouts can’t both have exclusive rights to SCOUT, so the rights must be divided between them in some way. This isn’t as unusual as it sounds: Mars owns the exclusive rights to DOVE for chocolate and Conopco Inc. owns the exclusive right to DOVE for soap.[4]

So what rights did Congress actually give each organization?

  • The purpose of the BSA is to “promote . . . the ability of boys . . ..”[5]
  • The purpose of the Girl Scouts is to “promote . . . qualities . . . among girls . . ..”[6]

SCOUT for boys belongs to the BSA. SCOUT for girls belongs to the Girl Scouts. The BSA needs to knock it off.

Shout out to Cassandra G. for bringing this story to my attention.

Big thanks to Liz B. who found the information about the history of the statutes.


[1] The trademark rights for BSA and Girl Scouts, while included in the Trademark Office database, actually stem from acts of Congress and it’s there we need to go to look for answers. The statutes that created the corporations for BSA and the Girl Scouts each granted them the “exclusive right to use emblems, badges, descriptive or designating marks, and words or phrases [it] adopts. 36 U.S. Code §30905 for the BSA. 36 U.S. Code §80305 for the Girl Scouts.

[2] Both the Girl Scouts and the BSA are struggling. The number of kids signing up for scouting was dropping before COVID-19 and went into free fall after. The BSA’s problems are compounded by issues stemming from sexual abuse and homophobia.

[3] Much like KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN changed to KFC because “fried” became a negative word and they were tired of being thought of as serving only chicken.

[4] The Trademark Office allows companies to share a trademark in the way BSA and Girl Scouts share SCOUT only in very special circumstances. In this instance, the sharing was created, literally, by acts of Congress and we have to make the best of it.

[5] 36 U.S. Code §30902. “The purposes of the [BSA] are to promote, through organization, and cooperation with other agencies, the ability of boys to do things for themselves and others, to train them in scoutcraft, and to teach them patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred virtues, using the methods that were in common use by boy scouts on June 15, 1916.”

[6] 36 U.S. Code §80302: “to promote the qualities of truth, loyalty, helpfulness, friendliness, courtesy, purity, kindness, obedience, cheerfulness, thriftiness, and kindred virtues among girls, as a preparation for their responsibilities in the home and for service to the community . . ..” The comparison of this to the purpose of the BSA makes me physically ill. Boys are taught courage. Girls are taught obedience. Boys are taught scoutcraft. Girls are taught purity. Boys are taught self-reliance. Girls are prepared for their responsibilities in the home.

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