How does Backcountry.com come back from its trademark battle backlash?
Backcountry.com, a leading outdoor e-tailer, has spent the last two years taking steps to protect its “backcountry” trademark. It took until November, however, for consumers to find out about it — and a social media firestorm ensued.
News of the trademark enforcement actions were first reported on Oct. 31 by The Colorado Sun and coverage quickly followed elsewhere.
Backcountry.com was found to have filed cease-and-desist letters or petitions to cancel trademarks against dozens of small businesses. Some actions led to federal lawsuits. Backcountry Nitro Coffee, Backcountry Denim and Boise retailer Backcountry Pursuit were among those reportedly changing their names under pressure.
Anger spread across social media sites in early November. A Facebook group launched Boycottbackcountry.com to encourage outdoor enthusiasts to stand up against “corporate bullies.”
“Trademarking ‘backcountry’ is like trademarking ‘camping’ or ‘mountains,’” the group’s founder, Aaron Mattson, wrote in a post. “It belongs to the community and shall not be appropriated.”
On Nov. 6, Backcountry.com finally responded with an apology.
“We made a mistake,” CEO Jonathan Nielsen wrote. “In an attempt to protect the brand we have been building for nearly 25 years, we took certain actions that we now recognize were not consistent with our values, and we truly apologize.”
Backcountry.com fired its trademark law firm and promised to re-evaluate how it handles trademarks. The retailer also dropped a lawsuit and formed an alliance with Marquette Backcountry Ski, a Michigan ski maker that was the only business that refused to settle after being sued. Mr. Nielsen further vowed to make calls to each company on the receiving end of legal action.
The apology was tepidly received. Members on Boycottbackcountry.com have more than tripled to 22,000 since the statement arrived. The group wants a commitment from Backcountry.com to drop any remaining legal action and amends for past actions.
Mr. Nielsen acknowledged the reparation challenges in his statement. He wrote, “We understand that this step we’ve taken may not be enough for some of you. The hope is that we can ultimately win back your trust, even if it takes time.”
- A Letter to Our Community – Backcountry.com
- Boycott BackcountryDOTcom – Facebook
- Backcountry.com sues anyone who uses its namesake. Is it bullying or just business? – The Colorado Sun
- Backcountry Is Making Amends After Angering Consumers – Outside Magazine
- Why Thousands of People Are Mad at Backcountry – Outside Magazine
- Backcountry.com fires its attorneys, partners with company it targeted in trademark lawsuit as CEO vows to make amends – The Colorado Sun
- Backcountry.com apologizes for filing lawsuits against smaller companies with ‘backcountry’ in their names – Salt Lake Tribune
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will the backlash over Backcountry.com’s legal campaign to protect its trademark blow over or are more reparation steps likely required? Do Backcountry.com’s challenges offer any lessons around protecting one’s trademarks?