Intellectual Property, Technology, Trademarks

Congress Gave Boy Scouts Special Law To Let Them Be Obnoxious Trademark Bullies

There’s a very cool group out there called the Hacker Scouts, which was started last year, trying to get kids interested in cool hacking stuff:

Hacker Scouts is a national non profit organization, founded in the Fall of 2012 in Oakland CA, that focuses on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) education, skill building and community engagement with the aspiration to help our children develop skills in the areas they are truly interested in, abilities that would allow them to dream big and create big. A variety of experts and mentors from the community ensure a well rounded and high level of attention and skill building for all ages through accessible programs that meet the different needs of our young makers. Hacker Scouts provides open source material and a support program for Hacker Scout programs globally.

Awesome, right? Definitely the kind of thing that should be encouraged. But, then the Boy Scouts of America went ballistic and threatened the Hacker Scouts with trademark infringement claims…

For the past several months we have been dealing with an issue that we now feel is at a point where it is important to let you know what is going on. A few months ago, we received a Cease and Desist letter from the Boy Scouts of America when we tried to trademark our name. Through various letters, we have tried to quietly come to a compromise, but the BSA position is clear: change our name or they will take us to court.

This is a difficult situation for us. We believe in our name and our right to use the word “scouts”. The BSA’s main argument is that they have a constitutional charter that they interpret to mean they have the right to use and trademark any word they choose. We disagree. We believe the charter itself may be unconstitutional, and that “scouts” is a world-wide connotation for a youth organization that existed before them and will exist long after them. We have also tried to be very clear in our message that we are not affiliated with the Boy Scouts nor are we trying to replace them. We do not offer the same experience, nor do we have a similar model as they do. We did not base our organization on them.

So, apparently, the Boy Scouts are trademark bullies. There’s no likelihood of confusion here, and the idea of dilution based on the use of the common word “scouts”? Seems ridiculous.

Except… lawyer Ron Coleman dug into things a bit and discovered that Congress, stunningly, has actually passed a special law just for the Boy Scouts that allows them to be trademark bullies. No joke. It’s 36 USC 30905, which is a part of 36 USC 309, which is a law just for the Boy Scouts of America. In 30905, the Boy Scouts appear to be given full “exclusive right” to “emblems, badges, descriptive or designating marks, and words or phrases the corporation adopts.” This goes way, way beyond what traditional trademark law allows, and the Boy Scouts appear to be using it to their trademark bullying advantage.

In fact, Coleman cites a case, Wrenn v. BSA from 2008, in which the court flat out said:

BSA need not demonstrate the likelihood of confusion because it has been granted special protection by Congressional charter

So, there you go. Stunningly, and ridiculously, the US government has given the Boy Scouts of America free reign to be obnoxious trademark bullies, threatening and going after anyone who uses “scouts” even if there’s no likelihood of confusion at all.

Congress Gave Boy Scouts Special Law To Let Them Be Obnoxious Trademark Bullies

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