Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, but we stayed at a Holiday Inn once.
So backcountry is suing, well, damn near every outdoor gear manufacturer or company with the word Backcountry in their name. And we say “damn near” because they aren’t suing absolutely everybody.
Backcountry.com, arguably the largest online-only retailer of outdoor gear, has launched dozens of lawsuits against outdoor gear related companies using their name, including Backcountry Babes, an avalanche safety company. Their claim is that they own the trademark to the word “backcountry” and, to quote many a famous rapper, keep my name out ya mouth. This has not only caused a sharknado level shitstorm amongst outsiders, but has also caused many brands to either change their name or fight the man in court to retain their right to use it.
So who is “The Man”? Surely a company that relies on a highly engaged audience over social media wouldn’t intentionally pull a “We’re Backcountry.com bitch!” move, would they? Well, yes and no. See, BCDC was started by two ski bums that just wanted a better way to provide gear to the outdoor world. And they did that, starting in 1996. However, as it goes with popular stuff, rich old white dudes want to get in on the action, and in 2015 TSG Partners bought out controlling interest in BCDC. TSG doesn’t really have anything to do with the outdoors, and the most “outdoorsy” their executive board likely ever gets is sipping gin martinis at the club house after a grueling 18 in 92 degree weather. TSG is a holding company that has their hands in everything from coffee to salsa to wine to beauty products. And now, outdoor products.
Wait, you can do that?
Trademark a word? Sure, what the hell, why not? I mean, Apple trademarked the word apple, right? Now, obviously you can still use the word Apple. Hell, you can even start a company called Apple, as long as it isn’t a tech related company, that is. So, Apple Automotive, sure. Apple Computer Repair, no.
But here’s the twist thats got everyone all stirred up. Backcountry is a very common term for us outdoorsy folk. If I buy a pack I want to know if it’s a day pack or one suited for… wait for it… the backcountry. But this new development has made calling your backpack the Backcountry Explorer 45 a no-no.
There is, however, some rules around using terms that are common terminology, and that’s what makes this one weird. There are countless newspapers around the world know as a Gazette. As such, you cannot trademark the word Gazette. So why can you trademark the name Backcountry? Good question.
The argument goes something like this: We, Backcountry.com, have been around long enough, have gotten big enough, and have enough in-house gear that we’ve made with our branding on it that letting others use the word could cause confusion. Oh, they also have a shitload of money from TSG, and as we all know, money talks.
Talk Nerdy To Me
Okay, a little tech talk for uno momento.
All trademarks are approved or denied by the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO). When you apply for a trademark they have a bunch of homeys and homets that go through a pretty hefty (and expensive) vetting process. As an applicant you apply for one or more categories for your trademark. There are 45 categories in total spanning goods and services, and some of them are rather broad.
BCDC now owns 47 trademarks, of which 8 are directly related to the word backcountry. But remember, each of the 8 can include several categories. So if you were thinking of starting something in the following areas with the name Backcountry, you maybe wanna order a tallboy and mull that one over. (scroll fast to skip this ridiculous list)
- Truck accessories, namely, tailgate pads specifically adapted for truck tailgates; Bicycle racks for vehicles; Bicycle carriers for vehicles
- Ropes; Ropes, not of metal; Climbing ropes; Mountaineering ropes
- Mountaineering and rock climbing equipment, namely, crash pads
- Snow probes, namely, avalanche probes, namely, elongated rods used to manually probe for people or objects buried in snow; Eyewear, namely, sunglasses; Protective eyewear, namely, ski goggles, snowboard goggles, ski glasses; Ski helmets; Snowboard helmets
- Hand tools, namely, ski and snowboard edge sharpening tools; Multi-function hand tools for ski and snowboard maintenance comprised of wrenches, screwdrivers, hex keys, pliers, and bottle openers; Multi-function hand tools for bicycle maintenance comprised of wrenches, hex keys, screwdrivers, torque drivers, knives, namely, folding knives, disc brake spreaders, bicycle repair chain hooks and breakers for bicycle chains, disc pad expanders, pliers, tire levers, and bottle openers
- Flashlights, portable headlamps, and lanterns for lighting
- Inner tubes for bicycles
- Tents and rain flies for tents
- Ski boots and snowboard boots
- Snow skis, ski bindings, ski poles, snowboards, and snowboard bindings
- chalk bags; backpacks; backpack hydration systems consisting of a backpack, a reservoir, and a mouthpiece connected to the reservoir by a tube; Pet products, namely pet restraining devices, namely leashes; Pet collars
- Camp chairs and camping tables
- Plastic water bottles sold empty; beverage pint drinking glasses, glassware, namely, drinking growlers, mugs; coffee tumblers; flasks; thermal stainless steel insulated bottles; reusable stainless steel water bottles sold empty; non-electric pots and pans; (Based on Intent to Use) Non-electric portable coolers, non-electric french press coffee makers, and pet feeding and drinking bowls
- Women’s clothing, namely, shirts, sweatshirts, tank-tops, multipurpose neckwear, bandanas, pants, ski pants, shorts, socks, headbands, beanies, cap visors, hats, jackets, technical shell jackets, vests, sweaters, dresses, and gloves; men’s clothing, namely, shirts, sweatshirts, multipurpose neckwear, pants, ski pants, shorts, socks, headbands, beanies, cap visors, hats, jackets, vests, sweaters, gloves, belts, and glove liners as clothing; children’s clothing, namely, t-shirts and infant clothing, namely, bodysuits; (Based on Intent to Use) Women’s clothing, namely, neck gaiters, tights, underwear, thermal underwear, balaclavas, softshell pants, mittens, belts, glove liners as clothing, underwear, skirts, skorts, bathing suits, coats, cycling shorts and cyclists’ jerseys, camisoles, leggings, parkas, pullovers, and gaiters; men’s clothing, namely, tank-tops, neck gaiters, bandanas, tights, underwear, thermal underwear, balaclavas, softshell pants, technical shell jackets, mittens, bathing trunks, coats, cycling shorts and cyclists’ jerseys, parkas, pullovers, and gaiters; children’s clothing, namely, caps being headwear, sweatshirts, hoodies, neck gaiters, beanies, mittens, and gloves.
- Climbing skins for skis and splitboards in the nature of snowboards; ski straps, namely, restraint straps for skis; Bags specially designed for skis and snowboards (Based on Intent to Use) Holds for artificial climbing walls
- Sleeping bags, beds, mattresses, air mattresses, mattress cushions, mattresses and pillows, inflatable mattresses, and mattresses for recreational purposes, furniture, inflatable furniture
- On-line retail store services featuring men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing, headwear, footwear, outerwear, eyewear, men’s and women’s running clothing and running shoes, men’s and women’s bike clothing, men’s and women’s fitness clothing and accessories, tote bags, watches, activity trackers, compasses, inclinometers, heart rate monitors, altimeters and accessories, tote bags, ski and snowboard equipment, snowshoes, avalanche safety, and other winter accessories, mountain, road, cyclocross, triathalon, time and trial, and kid’s bikes, bike parts, bike helmets, bike clothing, and bike accessories, kayaks, kayak clothing, and related accessories, canoes, paddles and related accessories, personal flotation devices, water safety helmets, survival gear, safety kits, rescue throw bags, camping, hiking, backpacking, fishing, rock climbing, wall climbing, mountaineering, and mountain climbing equipment and related accessories, surfboards, wetsuits, rashguards, and surf accessories, yoga mats, foam blocks, foam rollers, meditation cushions, towels, smart scales, audio equipment, food, nutritional supplements, luggage, luggage and equipment car racks and related accessories; Dissemination of advertising for others via an on-line electronic communication network; Promoting the goods and services of others by preparing and placing advertisements on a web site access through a global computer network; Provision of information and advice to consumers regarding the selection of products and items to be purchased according to customer needs and interests, including the suitability of items for use while traveling to particular destinations
- Provision of travel information to customers
- Retail store services, mail order services, and computerized on-line retail store services featuring men’s and women’s clothing, headwear, footwear, outerwear, eyewear, heart rate monitors, altimeters and accessories, tote bags, ski and snowboard equipment, snowshoes, avalanche safety, and other winter accessories, kayaks, canoes, paddles and related accessories, camping, hiking and mountain climbing equipment, food and hiking accessories, luggage, luggage and equipment car racks and related accessories; dissemination of advertising for others via an on-line electronic communication network; and promoting the goods and services of others by preparing and placing advertisements on a web site access through a global computer network
For The Love Of God!
Yep, that’s a big list boys and girls. A damn big list. But there’s a method to the madness. If BCDC doesn’t protect everything they touch, it leaves the door open for someone else to trademark in that given category, and things get even messier.
But Should They?
No question at first blush suing others is a major dick move. However, if they don’t protect their name and let others use all crazy like, it becomes part of the public domain and then getting it back under control is even tougher.
How Will It End?
Who knows. We know historically that it went pretty bad for Specialized when they pulled this crap, but they’re still in business and in fact growing. We’ve seen a lot of people saying they will be boycotting BCDC from here on out, and it will have an impact on their bottom line, but how big who knows. Time will tell and the collective of outsiders will either send the old rich dudes a message or they’ll survive and we will in fact see the “We’re backcountry.com, BITCH!” side of BCDC.
Stay tuned and subscribe to The Stoke to get the latest on this awesomeness, we’ll keep our eyes peeled.