Backcountry.com is doing damage control after its widespread trademark enforcement drew negative press in recent weeks. The Colorado Sun reported on the outdoor retailer’s widespread threats of litigation against smaller companies using the word “backcountry” in their brands, and a social media-driven boycott followed — just as the holiday gift-buying season ramps up.
The company has since taken the extraordinary step of cutting ties with its outside trademark counsel, IP LegalAdvisors, and issuing a public apology in which it said it would “reexamine[its] broader approach to trademarks.”
“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,” said Backcountry.com CEO Jonathan Nielsen in a Nov. 6 statement.
The company had filed dozens of petitions with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the trademarks of other companies using the term “backcountry.” Its targets included brands like Marquette Backcountry Skis and Backcountry Denim Co., but they also included companies outside the realm of outdoor gear, like Backcountry Nitro coffee. Nielsen said he is looking to resolve the companies’ trademark challenges directly with the businesses. He didn’t confirm, the Colorado Sun noted, whether the company plans to withdraw its petitions to cancel other companies’ trademarks.
Meanwhile, a Facebook group calling to boycott Backcountry.com listed more than 22,000 members as of Friday. That number that grew even after Backcountry.com announced its change in strategy.
The radical change in trademark strategy has been cause for discussion among intellectual property experts and practitioners — how much should IP counsel and their clients think about public image when protecting their trademarks?
Ian Saffer, a partner at Adsero IP in Littleton, said it’s common practice to at least consider how the public might perceive a company’s trademark enforcement, especially in the internet age.