Many Americans who love the outdoors enjoy venturing in to the “backcountry,” which refers to undeveloped wilderness and rural areas. However, a quick Google search of the word brings up the popular online retailer Backcountry.com, which specializes in gear and clothing for the outdoor enthusiast.
The company trademarked its name, and it takes that trademark seriously. Recently, it made news for taking legal action against a number of smaller companies with “backcountry” in their name that sold similar products.
These small businesses didn’t have the resources to fight back. Owners had to rebrand their products or their entire company. They complained of the toll the actions took on them financially and personally. Some had researched the name themselves to determine whether it was already trademarked before they used it rather than having an attorney do the appropriate due diligence.
The Backcountry.com case shows just how much of a disadvantage small companies can be at if a large, well-funded competitor asserts their legal rights to their intellectual property (IP) like trademarks.
In this case, consumer backlash prompted the online retailer to change its tactics. A public outcry on Twitter showed how many people sided with small businesses over a large retailer. Hashtags like #boycottbackcountry began appearing.
No company wants a word like “boycott” next to their name on any social media platform. The company not only issued an apology but began working individually with these smaller businesses to find a resolution.
Companies can and should protect their IP. However, as we noted recently in the case of Disney letting the proliferation of Baby Yoda images go, legal action against individuals and smaller businesses isn’t always in a company’s best interests.
Nonetheless, small businesses can’t count on a public uprising in their favor over an IP dispute. That’s why it’s wise to be sure that you aren’t in danger of infringing on anyone else’s IP as you start your business and develop new products and services. Experienced legal guidance can be well worth the money.