Last year, on advice from their legal team, Backcountry.com decided to pursue a trademark infringement claim on a small Colorado-based business named Marquette Backcountry Ski. The comparative giant of retail outdoor sports and equipment, Backcountry.com, filed suit against Marquette Backcountry Ski (and a dozen others, actually) for using the term “backcountry” in their name.
What Backcountry.com did not consider was public response.
Small Business Owner in Colorado Stands His Ground in Court
When Backcountry.com sued Marquette Backcountry Ski, owner David Ollila did not take the matter lying down. Instead, he called on his business’s supporters to boycott Backcountry.com.
Within a short period of time, Marquette Backcountry Ski’s Facebook page had grown to 10,000 members strong. The owner also launched a GoFundMe page to help cover court costs, and at the last tally, it had raised more than $6,000.
The support system that Mr. Ollila discovered on these social media platforms gave him the confidence he needed to refuse a settlement offer from Backcountry.com in federal court.
He told reporters, “Looking at all the comments online, I see people saying that until this is rectified, they are not shopping there…this is a great wake-up call to the industry…about what it takes to run a small business and what a fair playing field looks like.”
Backcountry.com Attempts to Quell Public Concerns… Will It Work?
Backcountry.com CEO Jonathan Nielsen was quick to give up the fight. In fact, they ended up firing their attorneys and seeking a partnership with Marquette instead.
In a follow-up interview, Nielsen said “We definitely did not [handle the infringement case] the right way and we have caused harm in the community, clearly, and we need to make that right…We are absolutely taking a completely fresh look at how we do things, and we are changing it in a big way.”
Nielson has since hired Ollila as a consultant, and the GoFundMe page has been taken down. In a David and Goliath-like infringement case, was this a win for David? It seems like a win for both this time.
Seems like Backcountry.com learned a hard lesson in the value of consumer opinion… or did they?
Many Backcountry Infringement Cases Still Ongoing
While the case against Mr. Ollila had a happy ending, there are still numerous petitions to cancel trademark registrations pending before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board filed by Backcountry.com and not all of them are being withdrawn.
For now, the outdoor lifestyle e-tailer hopes to reach settlements for each trademark infringement claim. But after Marquette’s outcome, it will be interesting to watch Backcountry.com navigate the rest of them.
Large corporations like Backcountry.com are fierce in the protection of the brands, and they will go after every single small business that even comes close to using a trademark similar to their brand.
The smartest small business owners chose a fanciful or arbitrary trademark that no one else is using. Distinguishing your business from everyone else is the key to building a brand.
Need help determining if you have a strong trademark? Reach out to Marks Gray IP attorney Crystal Broughan.