After a significant public backlash following reporting that Backcountry (backcountry.com) was pursuing trademark infringement lawsuits against companies using the term “backcountry,” the Utah-based online retailer has posted a public statement from their CEO apologizing for taking “certain actions that we now recognize were not consistent with our values” and pledging to “reexamine our broader approach to trademarks to ensure we are treating others in a way that is consistent with the culture and values envisioned by our founders and embraced by our community.” In short, Backcountry is responding to pressure from their customer base, and at least somewhat are attempting to account for their actions.
A noteworthy development is that Backcountry will be dropping its lawsuit against Marquette Backcountry skis, in which they sought to overturn Marquette Backcountry’s 2010 trademark and secure fees that far exceeded the independent ski brand’s historical profit total. It shouldn’t be overlooked that the lawsuit against Marquette Backcountry included some pretty incendiary language requesting “punitive or exemplary damages … in an amount sufficient to punish and deter defendants and to make an example of them.”
While the full extent of what transpired between the two companies is unknown, the lawsuit’s language doesn’t seem to align with Backcountry CEO Jonathan Nielsen’s assertion the company “tried to resolve these trademark situations amicably and respectfully, and we only took legal action as a last resort.” While some will be appeased that Backcountry is relenting, their reformed outlook on the trademark issue is likely cold comfort to those like BDCo.—formerly Backcountry Denim Co.—and Backou eBikes—formerly Backcountry eBikes—which have already changed their names in the face of legal action.
Still, the statement from and moves by Backcountry are likely to be viewed as a victory for concerned consumers and outdoor community members over a company that had seemingly abandoned its founding values after being purchased by a private equity firm in 2015. It remains to be seen how Backcountry will navigate trademark issues going forward—especially with their ever-expanding house branded product lineup—and their week or so of relative silence in the face of public criticism will do little to quiet the feeling they acted only after it became clear the company’s bottom line was at risk. That’s a consistent byproduct of capitalism, however, and often the only cudgel consumers wield is the power to empty their wallets somewhere else. We’ll continue to update this story as it develops.
Read the full statement from Backcountry CEO John Nielsen below, and see all our outdoors coverage here.
“Dear Backcountry Community,
We have heard your feedback and concerns, and understand we fumbled in how we pursued trademark claims recently. We made a mistake.
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.
It’s important to note that we tried to resolve these trademark situations amicably and respectfully, and we only took legal action as a last resort. That said, we know we mishandled this, and we are withdrawing the Marquette Backcountry action. We will also reexamine our broader approach to trademarks to ensure we are treating others in a way that is consistent with the culture and values envisioned by our founders and embraced by our community.
We only want what’s best for the whole community and we want every person and business in it to thrive. Backcountry has never been interested in owning the word “backcountry” or completely preventing anyone else from using it. But we clearly misjudged the impact of our actions.
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. We are grateful to be a part of your lives, providing you with great gear for your outdoor adventures, and all we want is to go back to doing what we do best. We intend to learn from this and become a better company.
Jonathan Nielsen, CEO