Intellectual property owners in New Jersey and around the country walk a fine line when they decide how vigorously to pursue infringers. Allowing trademarks and copyrights to be used without permission or consequence encourages further infringement and sets a precedent that could make future litigation more challenging, but initiating legal action against companies operating in completely different market segments just because they have vaguely similar names can seem like bullying and provoke fierce consumer reactions.
This is the position the online retailer Backcountry.com com recently found itself in. The Salt Lake City-based company filed trademark applications to protect the word ‘backcountry” in 2018 as it prepared to launch a new line of branded merchandise. It then initiated a flurry of lawsuits and filed petitions with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office targeting dozens of companies that use the word ‘backcountry” in their names including a ski store, an avalanche safety organization, a coffee company and an electric bicycle manufacturer.
Media outlets soon learned about the litigation, and stories quickly appeared that painted Backcountry.com as overzealous and capricious legal bullies. An angry consumer backlash ensued that included Twitter hashtags calling for a Backcountry.com boycott and a review-bombing campaign. Social media influencers sensing an opportunity for exposure then seized on the backlash by throwing their full weight behind the protestors. The private equity firm that owns Backcountry.com along with several other prominent outdoor brands has not reacted to the backlash and seems committed to riding out the storm.
Attorneys with trademark law experience may advise their clients to think carefully before taking steps that could provoke a public response. Attorneys may also suggest making every effort to resolve intellectual property disputes amicably whenever possible. However, when infringement is blatant or could confuse consumers, attorneys may recommend pursuing all available legal remedies without delay.