Hacker Scouts is a non profit organization encouraging children to explore science, technology, engineering, art, and math. When I first read about Boy Scouts of America suing Hacker Scouts regarding the use of the term “scouts” in their name I did a double take. Why on earth would the BSA wish to create a fuss about the term “scouts” in the name?
When it comes to trademarks, corporations are under the obligation to ensure that they are actively being protected against abuse. Part of the obligation stems from reasoning that your trademarks are valuable and identity who you are. What you don’t want is confusion in the same market where organizations are being associated when there is no relationship. The BSA believes there is a reasonable chance that “Hacker Scouts” will be confused with “Boy Scouts” as both organizations are working with youths to build lifelong skills. No one I’ve spoken to confuses the two organizations. I’m not a lawyer so I’m not equipped to delve into the merits of this argument, however I am an experienced Product Manager who knows the value of a good brand. If I were managing the brand of the BSA, I’d be wondering how much damage is being done and how long will it take to recover.
Before the Internet and in particular Social Media, litigation news was very rarely heard. You may have gotten the occasional corporate giant suing another giant, but it was very rarely heard by the general public. If an injustice was being done it would take a very long time to organize and campaign against it – let alone create national furor. It’s almost too easy to create a Facebook page, a petition, or a tweet on Twitter to get the word out and organically have an army of disgruntled people against you. Based on googling “Hacker Scouts BSA” you can tell who is winning the PR battle. The Boy Scouts of America are being portrayed as bullies, attacking children who are trying to learn new skills. This the same group of children that they wish to attract to their ranks. As a parent myself and a former Boy Scout, it makes me re-think what values the Boy Scouts of America promotes to its members. Especially when the PR director says:
…Boy Scouts applauds groups with similar principles, but that the organization “has a responsibility” to its members to maintain “trademarks, symbols, words and phrases” that create “a sense of belonging.”
The BSA has this responsibility, but this isn’t what you want as a quote in the LA times. This comes off as cold and unfeeling and the PR Director should have known better. This quote makes it sound like the BSA is more interested in their legal properties than promoting good youthful citizenship. This thinking belongs behind closed doors. Say something else to change the story especially since “Boy Scouts” conjures up images of camping, tying knots, first aid, fire building, sportsmanship – nothing that I would associate with “Hacker Scouts”. With their membership declining, the BSA really should be considering how they can promote and extend their brand to the Hacker Scouts to keep interest in their organization. Not litigating and proving that they are losing touch with society.