Update: Hacker Scouts and the BSA

First, I want to thank everyone who has supported us either online or through emails. The outpouring of understanding regarding our situation and encouragement around our mission has been amazing. We feel confident that no matter what happens, we will move forward all together and continue to serve our community in the most innovative and creative ways we can!

Unfortunately, we do not have any new developments to report.  We are still waiting to hear back from the BSA regarding their offer to come to an amicable agreement. I have included our most recent letter to them below in the interest of transparency, to show how we are asking for a reasonable solution. Note that the letters we refer to in the first paragraph were before the last correspondence we received from them, which indicated the only solution was to change our name or be sued.  It was our hope that they would change their mind, go back to considering an amicable agreement that worked for both parties, and meet us halfway.

Dear xxxxx:

Thank you for your time last week.  As we discussed, I am representing the Hacker Scouts in their trademark dispute with your client, the Boy Scouts of America (the “Boy Scouts”).  In letters dated x and x, you asserted that the Hacker Scouts’ use of the word “scout” infringes on the Boy Scouts’ trademark, but indicated you would rather reach an amicable solution than initiate litigation.  We appreciate that offer and are writing to propose a solution.

The Hacker Scouts understand that Congress gave the Boy Scouts the exclusive right to use the “emblems, badges, descriptive or designating marks, and words or phrases” that they adopt.  36 U.S.C § 30905.  As courts have recognized, however, the word “scout” is “a word of common speech, which all are entitled prima facie to use,” and therefore “there might be some question whether the word ‘scout,’ taken by itself, [is] within the ‘words or phrases’ used by the [Boy Scouts] in carrying out [their] program.” Adolph Kastor & Bros., v. Federal Trade Commission, 138 F. 2d 824, 826 (2d Cir. 1943).  Put simply, “[w]hether the statute is meant to go so far as to protect a single word broken from its context might be open to debate.” Id.

The generic nature of the word “scout”  is borne out by the number of U.S. organizations using it in their names.  A quick Google search reveals the Code Scouts, the Frontier Market Scouts, the Health Care Scouts, the Dog Scouts, the Madison Scouts, the Xeniascouts, the Earthscouts, the 55th Cascadia Scouts and any number of other “scout” organizations, many of which have been around for years.  The Hacker Scouts would very much like to be part of that group and continue to use “scout” in its name.

The Hacker Scouts are not modeled on the Boy Scouts, and in fact pursue very different ends.  Though both organizations seek to benefit children, the Hacker Scouts are inclusive, aimed at boys and girls of all types, and are focused on apprenticeship and mentorship in a “maker” or creative environment.  For Hacker Scouts, the word “scout” has nothing to do with the Boy Scouts’  emphasis on practical outdoor activities, but means “looking to the future and preparing for what is to come,” most often with an emphasis on new technology and emerging methods.

Notwithstanding those and other differences, and in the interest of reaching an amicable solution, the Hacker Scouts are willing work in good faith to ensure there is no confusion between the two organizations and their names.  The Hacker Scouts already have a disclaimer on their website to show that they are not affiliated with the Boy Scouts, but they would be willing to make that disclaimer more fulsome and prominent.  To the extent the Boy Scouts take umbrage with the Hacker Scouts’ symbols or imagery, the Hacker Scouts would be willing to negotiate changes there, too.  They would also be willing to discuss licensing of the word “scouts,”  if that would be helpful.

At bottom, if the Boy Scouts are willing to allow the Hacker Scouts to keep their name, the Hacker Scouts will make whatever reasonable concessions the Boy Scouts require to protect their trademark going forward.

According to their website, the Boy Scouts are dedicated to improving character and fostering responsible citizenship, while encouraging people “to recognize the needs of others and take action accordingly.”  With those principles in mind, and in the interest of avoiding an unnecessary legal battle that would distract both organizations from serving kids, we ask in good faith that you respectfully reconsider your demand and work with us to reach a compromise solution.