Backcountry "Owns" the Term?

  • Apparently Backcountry feels they have the term "Backcountry" trademarked and are filing lawsuits against companies that have it in their name.
    "But what’s different in this fight is that it isn’t with other big corporations or against outright defamation. Many consumers and outdoor industry members are focusing on the fact that Backcountry appears to be targeting the little guys, the companies who innovate and inspire the outdoor industry. It seems more like David vs. Goliath to them.

    “This is a bullshit private equity move, masters of the universe, trying to control the world,” said Rich Hill, president of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance. “We have retailers that have had ‘backcountry’ in their name for the last 40 years. To my knowledge, none of them have been contacted. The whole Backcountry organization needs to tell the investment group that this will damage their reputation if they continue to pursue this.”

    Indeed, it’s already happening. More than 11,000 people have joined the Facebook group Boycott BackcountryDOTcom. A handful of members changed their profile pictures to Backcountry's all-white, big-horned goat logo with a red slash through it. Others have taken videos of them scraping their goat stickers off gear. The hashtags #boycottbackcountry and #backcountryboycott are gaining more and more posts. Another thread on the Mountain Project forum is titled "Backcountry is not playing nice." Ollila and two others even created a GoFundMe to raise legal fees to fight the business. SNEWS reached out to Ollila for comment, but has not immediately heard back.

    "If you’re anybody in the market that’s got the name backcountry associated with your brand or your product or your service, I'd be on high alert right now because there’s someone out there that wants to take it from you," Ollila, founder of Snapperhead Inventions, the manufacturer of the Marquette skis, recently said on the Wintry Mix podcast.

    Justin Reiter, an Olympic snowboarder, said he’s done with Backcountry—and he’s only one out of thousands of customers with impassioned words. “They have the façade of being outdoorsy, but they’re not,” Reiter said. “They’re a profit-driven, e-commerce superstore. I think if you just scrape off the façade, it’s no different than a Walmart, a Costco, a Target. It’s trying to provide a good deal and capture market share. But it’s utilizing a brand to try and fool everyone.”

    Backcountry Nitro cans
    Backcountry Nitro recently rebranded the canned coffee company to Wild Barn Coffee over the trademark dispute.

    Small companies feel threatened and relinquish their names to Backcountry
    Jordan Phillips was on the receiving end of legal filings in 2017. The rollout of Backcountry’s first namesake collection in 2018 was not long after Phillips, a former Gregory Packs and Levi's executive, registered a federal goods trademark for Backcountry Denim Co., an active jeans company with a "plant, remove, improve" purpose. Within weeks, he received a petition for cancellation of his trademark registration from Backcountry. And when the USPTO denied Backcountry's request, the online retailer filed a lawsuit against Phillips in February 2019 in California's U.S. District Court. They settled in August 2019 under undisclosed terms.

    "Big companies that go after the small guys do that because they know they can bury them in legal costs and find loopholes and whatnot," Phillips said. He also said, “My feeling is that nobody should have the right to the term ‘backcountry.’”

    It’s like trademarking the words “outdoor” or “mountain,” he said. In a February 2018 response, Phillips argued that the word is descriptive, and thus, cannot be trademarked alone. "Backcountry is a term used in dozens of brands and products in the outdoor retail sector," he wrote. "...The Petition for Cancelation (sic) is truly a tactic to test the strength of a large and well-funded corporation to intimidate a small family company."

    "I feel stomped on and threatened for sure," said Jenny Verrochi, who rebranded her canned coffee company.

    Phillips said he poured hundreds of hours into teaching himself trademark law and fighting the case for more than two years, but he can’t say how it ended due to confidentiality terms. He renamed his company BDCo. for now and he’s planning a soft launch of 15 American-made products for next spring. “These guys pulled the rug out from under me when it was day two. I had to catch my breath for a couple months.”

    He's not alone. Backcountry has lodged petitions for cancellations of marks against at least 13 companies, out of 316 marks including the word “backcountry” and 44 owners listed on the trademark database In numerous cases, Backcountry’s attorneys point out that their client's mark came first, arguing that if other companies get to keep their mark, the retailer “believes that it will be damaged by the continued registration of the above-referenced registration.”

    Some cases are still pending, some have been abandoned after decisions between the parties, and some companies’ marks have been cancelled. In at least one case, Backcountry withdrew its petition for cancellation of a trademark. And as of Wednesday, the retailer dropped the lawsuit against Ollila's company.

    Without funds for a legal fight, Jenny Verrochi said she felt forced into changing her Boulder based canned coffee company’s name from Backcountry Nitro to Wild Barn Coffee. When she opened her email on Aug. 30, 2019, she felt sick. Sitting unread in her inbox was a 7-page document from an attorney for Backcountry asking her to immediately stop using the word "backcountry" even though she had a trademark. If she didn't, the giant online retailer's legal team said it would take further action. “Please be aware that my client will not be inclined to resolve this matter amicably if it is forced to oppose your application or formally litigate the matter,” attorney Ben White wrote to her on behalf of Backcountry.

    After months of stress and a few thousand dollars spent on lawyer fees and redesigns, Verrochi surrendered. She still hasn't signed Backcountry's cease-and-desist order; she's hoping the name change will be enough for them to drop the case.

    "I used to buy from them," said Verrochi, an avid snowboarder and outdoor enthusiast. "It’s just strange because the outdoor community is so close-knit and I like to think everyone supports each other. It’s heartbreaking and I feel stomped on and threatened for sure."

    Backcountry Discovery Routes, a Seattle nonprofit providing GPS maps for off-road motorcyclists, faces a petition for cancellation. Backcountry’s attorneys argued in letters that the nonprofit’s mark is “confusingly similar to Petitioner’s Backcountry Marks in both appearance and commercial impression” and that Backcountry “is the dominant portion of Registrant’s Mark since consumers are generally more inclined to focus or remember the first word in a multi-word mark.”

    The nonprofit’s attorney, John Branch, responded with his own petition to cancel Backcountry’s trademarks. "I was really surprised they singled us out," Branch said. His client has used the name for 10 years and has 30,000 members. "...A nonprofit doesn’t really want to get in an argument with a for-profit company."

    Another nonprofit, Backcountry Babes, a women-focused avalanche safety clinic is operated by Constellation Outdoor Education, faced cancellation of its trademark in January 2019. A representative declined to talk for the story; documents in the case from January 2019 are sealed, but their mark is still registered. A source close to the case said Backcountry Babe’s trademark included rights to apparel in the U.S. and it blocked the retailer from continuing to make apparel.

    The lead image for the GoFundMe campaign to fight Backcountry.


    Reclaiming the backcountry
    As of midday Wednesday, the GoFundMe "Legal Defense to Fight" had raised more than $6,000. The campaign’s introduction, in part, reads, “‘Backcountry’ was common vernacular long before appropriated it and began sueing those who use the term to describe their products, organizations and movements. This is abusive and goes against all the ethics and standards of the outdoor community.”

    Both the fundraiser and the boycott were created to show Backcountry that the outdoor community doesn’t tolerate “corporate bullies.” They're also reinforcing the message that no one owns the backcountry.

    “If they wrote a public apology and said we really lost our way, we’re going to step back and take all these lawsuits back and everyone’s welcome to use [the word], and all the money we were spending on legal fees, we’re going to donate to the backcountry, then I’ll say hey, get it,” Reiter said. “But even if they did, honestly, those guys are dead to me.”

    Nielsen hopes people will consider Backcountry’s side of the story too. “We are fundamentally the same Backcountry our customers have loved for years,” he said.

    *"Within a few days of a Colorado Sun story detailing the U.S. District Court lawsuits and U.S. Patent and Trademark Office petitions filed on behalf of, a Boycott Facebook page has more than 4,500 members. A GoFundMe page is collecting money to support Marquette Backcountry Ski founder David Ollila, the only business owner who has not settled after being sued in federal court.

    Online forums — like those at Teton Gravity Research and Mountain Project — are galvanizing opposition to the e-retailer.

    “This obviously didn’t resonate well with the market,” said Ollila, the Michigan entrepreneur behind Marquette Backcountry Ski who was sued in September by for trademark infringement. “Looking at all the comments online, I see people saying that until this is rectified, they are not shopping there. I see this as a great wake-up call to the industry and awareness about what it takes to run a small business and what a fair playing field looks like.”"*

  • @johntp Jesus Murphy!!

    I, as well as countless others have been using the term "backcountry" since long before the Internet was even a gleam in NSFNet's eye....

    Add Redpoint University Climber Forum Community to the growing list of those opposing this nonsense. Let us all join in doing whatever our small parts may be towards getting the snot clicked out of them and going down for the count on this one, both civilly and publicly.

    Thanks for posting this up, John! 👍

  • Sorry to see that management at is playing tough with such a common name.

    I used to work as a sales-rep for a small clothing manufacturer based in Arcata, CA. Around 1985, after they had been in business under the name Blue Puma for about 14 years, the boss received a letter from a PUMA Footwear lawyer, with a cease & desist, change your name, or we will sue you threat.

    He & his partner consulted a Trademark attorney & was told they could easily defeat the threatened lawsuit, but the lawyer would need $50,000.00 in "see-money" upfront.

    They did not have 50,000.00 to spend on a lawyer, so they looked for a new name & since most of their business was in clothing for kayakers, they selected a Chinook Indian name, Kokatat, which translates to "Into The Water."

    They've been a dominant company in that niche market ever since.

  • Woah! After actually reading some of the news reports, I think they really screwed themselves on this one. I haven't taken the ski bindings I bought from them a week ago out of the box and am thinking of returning them. The CEO's attempt to dance his way out of it just dug him deeper as far as I'm concerned.

    And yeah Fritz, to me it seems the lawyers saw billable hours and sold the plan to the Board. The lawyers will make lotsa $$, Backountry, not so much.

  • I understand wanting to protect a trade name or mark, and sometimes when one has a name(like "BackCountry") some others DO try to create an association with the term in order to further their business.

    It would be NICE if the rightsholders would insist their lawyers only contact those who ARE trading off their name(or attempting to, however loosely), and leave alone the poor small businesses who happen to be using the term and aren't piggybacking.

    You'd be surprised how many very common terms are registered. On Etsy, people post to the forums on a regular basis about getting the C&D demands. I'm wondering if I'll ever get one for using the word "Tiffany" in the name of a stone I use (Tiffany Stone, named after a person who lived near where the material is mined).

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