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Backcountry.com sues anyone who uses its namesake (coloradosun.com)
492 points by NorthOf33rd 16 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 350 comments

I’m a climber / skier / runner etc based out of Colorado and between my wife and we’ve spent a small fortune with backcountry.com. I didn’t know about any of this. Suing a maker of backcountry skis? Well, fuck you too, private equity jerkoffs. I’m going to light up my rep on this and let them know my spend and my recommendations are going elsewhere.


Edit3: GoFundMe for the legal costs of one of their targets: https://www.gofundme.com/f/legal-defense-to-fight-backcountr...

Edit2: A follow-up article with more details on just how predatory and unreasonable BC (by proxy through their attorneys) have become: https://coloradosun.com/2019/11/05/backcountry-com-trademark...

Edit, @skierjerry, et, al, here's what I just sent my rep:

Heya <person>,

I read an article about Backcountry in the Colorado Sun that really disappointed me. Your employer has adopted ugly business tactics and begun using its size to attack smaller businesses who have the ubiquitous term “backcountry” in their name.

Please look at my lifetime spend with Backcountry as well as that of my wife. It is significant. It also stops now, and I’ll be making significant contributions to the legal funds of the boutique makes and businesses that your employer is assaulting.

I wish you nothing but the best on a personal level and hope that your employer chooses to take a better path."

Worth a mention...Colorado Sun is a great example of what local journalists can do after local legacy organizations are snapped up by national/global organizations.

After the Denver Post was acquired by Alden Global Capital, the paper's hedge fund owner,they laid of 1/3 of newsroom staff to maintain a profit margin on the property in the 20 percent range.

Several of those laid off (and some volunteered to migrate), they formed the Colorado Sun, which is online-only and does actual deep investigations locally. It's probably still hard and the money isn't easy, but its better than what we had!

I was quite surprised to see a Sun article on HN today. Been a member as soon as I moved to Denver last year and have loved seeing it be such a high quality source of journalism.

The Denver Post situation has been a great example of finance eating the world.

The Editor is the Boulder Daily Camera fell on his sword quite spectacularly over it...


I'm new (18 months) to Colorado, and I've really been enjoying the coverage the Sun provides. Very impressed.

Yup, I love Colorado Sun. They are really deserving of your eyeballs and your support.

I chatted with a rep last night and they were very responsive, said "our managers are listening to customer feedback."

Don't forget, Black Diamond laid off much of the Utah engineering staff and their climbing cams will now be made in China... Not sure what other gear is taking that fate. Looks like it's Metolious Master Cams for me now.

Did BD re-offshore things? At one point, they were bringing manufacturing back to the US after QC issues.

Answering my own question: looks like it. They brought it back in 2015 and are going back overseas in 2019.



That's crazy. China loves to replace parts with "equivalent materials." My employer has been spending the last 3 months resolving Chinese QC issues with metal fabrication such as ignoring critical tolerances or broken welds. Considering how devastating it would be for a carabiner or ice axe to fail in the field it would be hard for me to trust outsourced manufacturing.

It's everything. Literally everything. It's what I believe is going to hold up Chinese manufacturing, regardless of how much better it is now compared to the 90's or early 2000's.

As another example - Jorgenson Pony clamps were made in Chicago until they closed down (like 15 years ago). They're the gold standard for woodworking clamps. Solid as a rock. The company announced they were re-making clamps. In China. At the world's largest clamp making plant.

They're garbage now. Materials are cheaper. The QC is nowhere near as good as they used to be. The price is more, even adjusted for inflation, than what they were when they were Chicago made - because people are buying the trusted brand name and getting burned for it.

It's just sad. I can't imagine that I would ever trust something like climbing gear to outsourcing. No thanks.

>It's what I believe is going to hold up Chinese manufacturing

What sense of "hold up" are you using here, "support" or "delay?"

"Impede" is the way the word is being used; see definition 2 of the verb here: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/holdup


This is highly rational behavior for hired CEOs — you’re there for 5-10 years and paid based on stock price, so it’s in your best interest to sell shoddy products under the venerable brand name in the highest quantities possible, and cash out before the market discovers that your brand name is worthless (cf all of the venerable kitchen brands like All-Clad and Wusthof that now have Chinese junk lines).

This is why the father to son family business model may prove more enduring.

All the CEO's care about is next quarter. Five or ten years isn't even on the radar at most companies anymore.

>All the CEO's care about is next quarter. Five or ten years isn't even on the radar at most companies anymore.

If their comp package is weighted towards the five year term, they absolutely care about five years from now.

I doubt any CEO's compensation is tied to anything beyond five years; and, I bet even terms at five years are sparse limited to a few giant names who have to (like Tim Cook) otherwise the stock price would collapse and that's it.

I'd like to add: there is no incentive for it either, shareholders want returns NOW, and so they want CEOs to act in their interest NOW. Most shareholders aren't looking at their "ownership" stake with compassion for employees at the company, or any form of responsibility to other stakeholders, but solely for their own bottom line.

>there is no incentive for it either, shareholders want returns NOW, and so they want CEOs to act in their interest NOW.

Many of the biggest shareholders are major pension funds with 30 to 50 year time horizons. They absolutely do NOT want "returns NOW" with the implicit assumption that future quarters don't matter.

They absolutely do NOT want "returns NOW" with the implicit assumption that future quarters don't matter.

That is true but it is also true that they can’t risk waiting 30 years only to find their investment is worthless. Hence the insistence on quarterly reporting.

> shareholders want returns NOW

I know this is the received wisdom, but as a shareholder, I emphatically do not want this. I want long-term value, as I am a long-term investor. I hate that I have to watch out for shady things like this and adjust my holdings accordingly.

Yeah, they trash the brand for a few quarters of returns and ride off into the sunset.

I always thought this was a weird definition of "rational". If you're already rich, which I assume most hired CEOs are, why is prioritizing money over people a more rational decision? Is that money going to change their life in any meaningful way? Is it any less correct to say it's in their best interest to stop working as soon as they have enough money to live comfortably for the rest of their life, to minimize stress and maximize lifetime?

I understand that it's rational behavior for someone driven exclusively by money, but that's an important qualification. Most people are not money robots, so they aren't given these jobs.

It's the corporate structure. The CEO either grows the year over year profits or he gets punished/fired by the board. Boards pick CEOs based on a history of delivering growth at any cost (this is one of the irrational decisions, they should prioritize long term growth over short term, but they rarely do). This in turn provides a strong incentive to CEOs to make bad long term decisions if it means short term gains, because they either won't be around to see the eventual collapse (having moved on to another CEO position) or else they take the long term plan and get fired by the board for not providing enough growth (or worse, reduction).

> strong incentive

But it shouldn't be a strong incentive, right? Getting fired from a CEO position is fine, you're almost certainly set for life. I understand this is sort of a circular argument, because anyone who doesn't buy into this incentive structure won't be hired as CEO, but my point is that somebody who is willing to go along with this system isn't really behaving rationally in the normal sense of the word.

> If you're already rich, which I assume most hired CEOs are, why is prioritizing money over people a more rational decision?

Generally, a non-founder CEO is a ferociously competitive person--probably to the point of being pathological. They often "play poker" in situations where there is very little upside to doing so.

Great salespeople are often the same way, they simply can't turn it off.

You are asking a leopard to change his spots after he has started eating the antelope.

I understand, I just don't think we should describe that behavior as "rational". In casual conversation, the word means "sensible, logic-driven decisions that any person with good judgement would take". Here we're describing behavior driven by a particular niche, unnatural rationale, and pretty much any behavior can be explained that way.

> pathological

That was precisely the parent comment's point.

I really dislike this kind of reasoning. Saying this is "highly rational" is saying the only value is money. Everything else can be set aside if it leads to more money. Even if people get hurt or worse using shoddy equipment. There is no place for empathy, at a sociopathic level. I'd think that a few millennia of civilization would give more value to notions of altruism, honesty, not constantly trying to scam your fellow man.

It is "highly rational" in the sense that success at their chosen career means hitting financial targets defined over short time periods.

The behavior won't change until the incentives do.

Yes, but we already know these positions tend to select for mildly sociopathic behavior in the first place...

This is a sort of "Ayn Rand'ian" rationality in which the only thing that matters is what you're getting out of the deal independently of how devoid of empathy your worldview is.

The way it's been explained to me is that it's proportional to how much money you're spending. If you think you're getting a great deal from the Chinese, then the Chinese think it's reasonable to rip you off.

Whereas a manufacture in another country might say: "For that little money, I won't do the job.", in China the answer is more like "For that little money, I'll do the job [but I'm going to rip you off, and for how little you're paying, you should already know you're going to get ripped off.]"

This is super interesting. The idea, "someone is always willing to make the money" is playing out in this unexpected way!

Got any links for a person to learn more about this cultural difference?

Any details about veracity? It’s the first I hear of it, and it’s rather interesting.

Unfortunately I don't have more details; it's something I heard a few years ago from a Chinese coworker. He was explaining that quality products can be produced in China, but you have to pay for that quality just like anywhere else. And it happens that when American companies outsource to China, they're often looking for the cheapest bidder.

“QC issues” are not a variable I want to consider In climbing gear.

You couldn't pay me enough to climb on a Chinese-made belay device.

Coming next to backcountry: commingling.

Yes I have purchased climbing equipment on Amazon but I always felt bad about it.

Given how common Black Diamond equipment is, almost all climbers have been belayed with a Chinese made ATC, carabiner or quickdraw...


It’s also crazy given China trade talks right now. Seems like at least something to postpone a year or so. Or maybe they already feel they have the shutoff options covered.

It seems like the liability issues here with life-critical equipment should make any lawyer put a hold on this idea, but apparently not?

I recently bought a set of collapsable climbing poles from Black Diamond.

They broke on my first really long hike. 1/3 of the way into a 72 mile route..

> Don't forget, Black Diamond laid off much of the Utah engineering staff and their climbing cams will now be made in China...

That might be why

How much engineering staff do you need to make some walking sticks?

Black Diamond makes a lot more than just walking sticks. But even if that's all they made ..

You're seriously underestimating how hard it might to to engineer and test even something as seemingly simple as a walking stick. These are lightweight, high-tech materials we're talking about (carbon fiber), which even SpaceX gave up on for their latest spacecraft. They're also collapsible/foldable. Simply put, this is harder than you think it is.

How much engineering staff do you need to make a search engine?

I have no idea, I've never made an artificial walking stick. Good strong wood is quite sturdy however, but not nearly as light as a synthetic walking stick. Trying to replicate the strength of a hard wood in a very lightweight synthetic material is probably a challenging engineering task.

Anyway I'd think production/manufacturing and quality assurance would be more to blame, particularly if the same products used to perform better than now.

Enough to keep your manufacturer from doing something stupid.

Designing the walking stick is simply the start. The problem is that you specified some really expensive materials with exotic manufacturing requirements that your supplier probably doesn't understand unless they are in aerospace.

Of course, aerospace manufacturers are ferociously expensive, and your customer can't really tell the difference if you are 1 or 2% less effective, but they can tell if you are 10% cheaper, so you start downgrading your manufacturing.

And then the problems start. The new manufacturer probably doesn't understand exotic materials as well, or they would be an aerospace supplier charging you more money. So, maybe they don't apply a cross layer, maybe they change the binding agent, maybe they use a cheaper material.

How do you, as the manufacturer, know?

You would have to put people on quality assurance analysis, but those are valuable engineers.

For a product that is $200. Max. For a company that has a revenue of roughly $100 million a year and basically no profit.

So, go find a company that charges $500-$1000 for your sticks and creates an actually good product, or suck it up and buy the Chinese crap.

They are about 150g per pole, so a fair bit I suspect.

Aluminum or carbon fiber? I'm betting carbon fiber, they are very lightweight but don't really hold up to use.

Meanwhile my Trail Pros have been a delight, by far the best aluminium poles I've ever bought. So yeah, I don't see what your anecdote proves.

> their climbing cams will now be made in China

I'm not sure if I see what's wrong with that. Like it or not, electronics manufacturing is centered around China and the APAC region. Trying to set up manufacturing outside that region, especially for a company that doesn't specialize in electronic goods, simply doesn't make sense.

Slight correction, I believe they're referring to the rock climbing hardware, not cameras: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spring-loaded_camming_device

Oh! Okay, that makes more sense.

Sorry I should have made that more clear haha

I'm doing they same. I've spent a stupid amount on bikes and climbing gear from them so hopefully they listen.

Brother I'm livid. I understand that a company has to protect a trademark, and I've been in the protecting position. But there are actions you have to take and actions you do not, and BC seems to be taking it to the extreme.

The thing that really pisses me off is that they are attacking people in business because they love the sport. These boutique makers are often just scraping by and don't have the margins to sustain much resistance at all.

I understand the desire to protect your trademark, but if you want to make a trademarked brand part of your business, maybe don't build your business around a generic term?

Maybe building your identity on something generic but relevant is a good way to crush the competition.

Or even companies that are not at all in competition. See the story on Lemonade and T-Mobil currently on the front page. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21453626

Yup, I'm switching exclusively to Moosejaw until Backcountry is a little more reasonable here. Obviously they have to enforce their trademark to avoid losing it, but some of these lawsuits are egregious imo.

FYI - Moosejaw is now owned by Walmart, so if you're trying to ethically "vote with your dollars" it might not be the best choice.

I buy essentially all my gear from the REI co-op, who seem to have both customer-friendly return policies as well as genuine commitments to environmental standards for the gear they stock.

REI is my favorite place for outdoor gear. Return policies aren’t as good as they used to be. You can get around the return policies by buying high end gear. I had a goretex jacket where the membrane taping failed after 8 years and the manufacture replaced the jacket for free.

Almost everyone has cut back on their replacement guarantees. LL Bean is another company that used to basically have a no questions asked policy.

I'm not sure whether it's a case of more people arguably abusing the spirit if not the letter of the policy as part of a modern take everything you can mindset. Or if it's that more and more stuff is made in the same Chinese factories and they literally tend not to "make stuff like they used to."

A bit of both is my guess.

According to llbean:

"Increasingly, a small, but growing number of customers has been interpreting our guarantee well beyond its original intent. Some view it as a lifetime product replacement program, expecting refunds for heavily worn products used over many years. Others seek refunds for products that have been purchased through third parties, such as at yard sales."


Well, of course, LL Bean isn't going to say "And, besides, our stuff is a lot crappier than it used to be." Some people have been doing this sort of thing forever. Though I find it perfectly believable that it's become more common--admittedly an assumption at least somewhat rooted in generational stereotypes.

Yeah, but we all know jerks who've been pulling that scam with Craftsman for years too, and I believe it's a large part of what made them less profitable too.

Turns out that a "forever" guarantee lasts longer than shifting moral standards.

I usually translate this as "my product are shit. They will not last much".

I know of at least one person who would routinely buy stuff and return it after a season of use to get a refund. That guy was a real asshole though. But still, people like him ruined it for the rest of us.

Sounds like a guy I knew who would "buy" a brand new TV just before the Super Bowl, and then return it immediately after.

This was before all consumer electronics were consolidated into a few chains, so he was able to go to a different place each year.

These days there are companies that monitor that sort of thing and will alert the stores when you try to return stuff. But considering the state of online shopping, I wonder if he's still doing it.

> I'm not sure whether it's a case of more people arguably abusing the spirit if not the letter of the policy as part of a modern take everything you can mindset.

I think that's the rationale they gave, and I believe them. My brother has pushed what I consider the moral limits of generous return policies a couple of times, and given what I've seen at REI scratch and dent sales, I think other people are as well.

I believe Nordstrom still has basically an unlimited return policy. They sell a surprising amount of outdoor gear too. Arcteryx, North Face, Patagonia, etc.

Most of the stuff in the stores is those brands fashion lines, but their website regularly has more outdoor focused gear. I even once bought a Snow Peak backpacking stove from them.

Yes, there’s the apocryphal tale of a Nordstrom employee refunding a customer for snow tires purchased elsewhere.


> I'm not sure whether it's a case of more people arguably abusing the spirit if not the letter of the policy as part of a modern take everything you can mindset.

That's probably a part of it, a long running joke in the skier community was that "REI is an acronym for Return Every Item."

That plus blatantly notably lower quality Chinese production probably put an end to it.

Weird. I've noticed a strong increase in the quality of their products over the past few years. I have a REI magma down bag from them and it's awesome. Their performance wear has taken a step up, too. I seriously considered a rain shell from them, but ended up buying a Mammut on sale.

One of the only real quality disappointments I've had with REI was fairly recently when about a 3 year old lightly-used camp sleeping pad started slow leaks from all over the pad. Obviously whatever material they used to keep the air on the inside had just broken down. I probably should have at least tried to return it but I couldn't be bothered. Looking online, I was far from the only person with this problem.

Fun fact, any (authentic) GoreTex-branded garment is warrantied _for life_ by W.L. Gore & Associates:


I have never personally used this policy but I know others who have.

"For life" is such a misleading statement I'm surprised companies get away with using it without running into legal trouble. It most definitely does not mean that your jacket is guaranteed to last as long as you're alive. They are not talking about your life, they are talking about "useful life of a product", which can mean pretty much anything.

My ski jackets which are goretex easily last 10+ years. Membranes are things that usually fail. I had a raincoat membrane fail while I was in Thailand during the monsoon season. It was a cheap rain coat at a 1/3 the price of a goretex equivalent. REI wouldn’t take back the raincoat even though it was only 4 years old so I replaced it with goretex active coat which is still going strong though I burned a couple holes in it that I had to plug with wax. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a waterproof membrane to last the life of garment. Most of my camping gear is 20 years old and still works fine.

For what it's worth, that Gore-Tex page seems to be pretty up-front about it being for the useful life of the product.

Arteryx honored a busted zipper and torn inseam in my snow pants. I live in these clothes a quarter of the year.

REI is one of my favorite stores in the world. It's hard for me to come up with a reason not to like them.

I've had bad experiences with their garage sales, buying products that say "too heavy" or "didn't like fit" but are just broken. Like at least give products a look over, especially electronics that can't easily be tested by a customer in store. Spent like 3k one year at REI, then was sold broken products that they didn't take back. Dividends don't accumulate on sale products so their pricing isn't competitive - I think once the bubble popped for me I realized REI isn't special

What items were broken? The dividend is compensation for paying full price where a sale is a discount on the full price.

Well, specifically, one that I remember was a solar charger. I couldn't exactly go outside and let it sit in the sun all day to see if it worked before buying. What set me off was when I asked them about it, they said, "hey its hit or miss. Actually we have another one next month, try your luck again!"

So I mean, its minor, and maybe I'm being petty, but it irritated me enough to stop buying gear there. Esp given how much I'd spent on winter camping gear the months before. Started trying to support local shops more where I can, and buying online elsewhere.

I don't really see the problem there to be honest. When it comes to electronics at the garage sale, I usually don't purchase unless I can tell that it's working or isn't difficult to fix. There could be a number of things wrong with electronics that don't show on the surface. One of the downsides to the garage sale is that sales are final. Basically, you took a chance on a risky second-hand product and the fortune wasn't in your favor.

Do you work for REI or have a business relationship with them?

No lol, I'm just a fanboy. They sell a lot of things I buy, and one of the only physical stores like it around.

> REI is one of my favorite stores in the world. It's hard for me to come up with a reason not to like them.

That's easy. Pretty much every single non-REI branded item that they sell in the store is insanely marked up compared to what it can be bought in the brand's store.

>> Pretty much every single non-REI branded item that they sell in the store is insanely marked up

Nah. I'm a regular REI shopper and this has not been my experience at all (I always check competing retailers before buying something at REI).

Agreed. I've been a member for a while now and REI's standard prices are pretty average if not a little high, but they have enough really good sales during the year (plus the member discounts) to make up for anything you'd consider high price. Not to mention the garage sales can be a gold mine.

It is definitely the case for ski gear ( skis/boots ), bike gear, cold weather gear, helmets, backpacks, etc. Northface store? 25% off. REI? List price. Columbia store? 25% off. REI? List price. Patagonia store? 15% off. REI? List price. Atomic REI? List price in Feb. Atomic at EVO? 25% off in Jan. Yeti at REI? List price. Yeti pretty much anywhere else? 10% off.

People justify it because of the dividends gimmick. Hell, I fell the first year for it myself.

I don't think REI moves as much ski/snowboard gear as a more local shop would, but they have seasonal sales on the same items you just mentioned every year, and their anniversary sale is usually pretty good. Not to mention their outlet store often has additional sales on items that haven't sold, plus the garage sale.

For instance: https://www.wired.com/story/rei-anniversary-sale-outdoor-dea...

The best 'deal' I found at REI was a ENO DoubleNest hammock for $12 at the garage sale, perfect condition. A near second would be a Black Diamond Access (I think) insulated hoodie for about $100, lasting me more than 6 years as my insulated layer for climbing, snowboarding, all around and casual use.

Last Season: REI great "snow sale" ~ 20% on Columbia gear. At the same time Columbia has the same stuff at ~75% off. Dick's has the same Columbia gear at 50% off.

REI is a cult. 10 years ago it was a cult that brought lots of things to the members because the brands sucked at selling on the internet or marketing on Instagram. Now the brands adjusted, and REI still behaves as if this is 2009.

Reasonable and accurate comment.

"I've been a member for a while now"... guy paid 20 bucks, one time, thinks he's part of an elite outdoors club.

Not reasonable or accurate, neither is yours.

I just went to your link. At the top there's a sale sign that says "extra 25% off items with price $xx.73".

REI outlet price: 77.73

After additional sale: $58.30

What's your point again?

That "special sale" at REI is gone. At Columbia regular 50% off is still there.

And that's the case across the board.

Now you're being rude and inflammatory. You're not worth the effort to respond to.

No. Their prices are consistent with the MSRP of the brand name products they stock.

> No. Their prices are consistent with the MSRP of the brand name products they stock.

And their competitors base line is pretty much always MSRP - 10%. That's why REI pretty much never shows up on Slickdeals apart from their blow out, out of season sale.

To be honest, their return policy is still awesome. You can return things after a whole year of use. They changed it because people were abusing the return policy and treating it like a rental.

It makes sense that they stopped offering a lifetime policy. 1 year is still generous. They also offer price adjustments up to 2 weeks after purchase (if a sale starts, for example).

That’s the thing. A company like REI wants to do good by its customers, but a large enough fraction of them make it into a game. I knew people who’d buy something outgrow it and return it to buy the new thing they wanted. I mean, c’mon, but there you have it, the same old ugly reason we can’t have nice things for long. People abuse these niceties till they adjust or die.

yeah, well (and this might be a stretch for you to consider) maybe they reduced the return window because people like you expect every item to last indefinitely.

The jacket had a lifetime warranty on waterproofing which is why the company replaced it.

These days I put a real premium on how a product is supported after I purchase it.

I paid almost $200 for an Outdoor Research rain jacket back in 2017. Last month the zipper broke off, and they immediately sent me a replacement. Now I won't think twice about what brand I buy the next time anyone in my family needs a lightweight rain jacket.

I used to be a long-distance road cyclist, and I paid a premium for the Dura Ace brand for chains, cassettes, chainrings, shifters, etc. On two different occasions something failed in the 3rd year of use, and both times Shimano replaced the broken part under warranty. Had I gone with cheaper kit, I would have had a slightly less quality ride experience and would have been out the cash to buy replacements out of warranty.

I bought a pair of L.L.Bean boots 2 months before they suddenly dropped their lifetime replacement policy. Guess what brand of boots I'm not going to touch with a ten-foot pole now?

Finally, I owned a Tesla for almost 3 years. For the first year Tesla honored its warranty for about a dozen issues that came up. I was willing to work with them through the issues because of how responsive to the problems they were at first. By the time I was at year 3, they were refusing to fix anything -- most notably, a shudder in the half-shaft that happened under moderate acceleration. I immediately got rid of it and won't ever purchase another car from that company.

It's all about how you treat your customers after the sale. Shimano and Outdoor Research have a fan for life. L.L. Bean and Tesla have earned someone who now discourages others from purchasing their products.

FWIW, MSR and Osprey are tiptop as well, both have replaced products for me even though I was just looking for parts to fix it myself (MSR), or giving feedback on how a pack wore after 6 years of heavy use (osprey).

Maybe they just like to see their gear after some proper usage to see how it's holding up.

Re: L.L. Bean, they still honor the lifetime warranty if you purchased before they changed their policy: https://www.llbean.com/llb/shop/513705?page=null

The only caveat seems to be that they now require you to have the original receipt, otherwise people would still be buying 30 year old clothing at garage sales and exchanging it (which is the reason they had to drop the lifetime guarantee to begin with).

L.L. Bean's return policy was no questions asked. It was almost certainly heavily abused. Personally, I can't blame them.

Does anyone have any insight on where Patagonia fits into this? I've always liked them based on their founder's "How I Built This" interview.

Check out Let My People Go Surfing as well, he talks more about how they've discontinued certain colors because of the environmental/social effects of mining certain pigments/dyes. It's very inspirational. I fear for what might happen after he's gone. Yvon Chouinard is the ruthless visionary we need for adventure sports equipment, something like Steve Jobs was for tech.

As for returns, I'm not sure they're any "better" than REI, but I fully buy into their philosophy of "if it's broken, fix it" and "don't buy this jacket." They try to be the antithesis of fast fashion and consumerism. If your jacket's zipper or stitching fails after 10 years of taking you to incredible heights, and you feel entitled to a replacement, you are delusional. Either fix it, or pony up the dough for a new one. You're not just investing in a new piece of clothing when you exchange money for it, you are investing in the company and its continued craftsmanship, R&D and training of newcomers to keep making and improving things. And in Patagonia's case, lobbying for better standards environmentally and sociopolitically. Asking for a refund or replacement is basically a vote for offshoring, reduced quality, carelessness towards the environment, etc as far as I'm concerned.

Patagonia is basically the vanguard on ethical production, environmental impact, etc and they stand by (& repair, for free) their products.

They'll even repair gear made by others. Which is putting your money where your mouth is, if you ask me. They'd rather keep your gear, made by someone else, going than sell you new stuff.

I buy from REI when the item I want is there and sales make the prices competitive, and I have the time to go out to the store.

> Obviously they have to enforce their trademark to avoid losing it

This is a commonly repeated myth. The circumstances in which you could even possibly lose control of a trademark in this way (genericization, abandonment) are very narrow and difficult to apply. For more context, try https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/11/trademark-law-does-not...

That article about commenting on a trademarked entity, not about businesses doing similar business using a trademarked word.

Of course, backcountry is a special case because it was already generic before it was incorrectly trademarked.

Well, sometimes you still have to enforce it. The trick is you don't have to be a jerk about it:


The problem is that "backcountry" is a generic term and trying to enforce otherwise is simple an act of corporate assholery.

As a lawyer I am verifying what another comment said, that this is a commonly-held myth wrt American trademark law.

Why not look for a local option for your gear? I understand that some equipment may not be available locally but surely you can find most of what you need. If their prices aren't competitive with online retailers, look at what else you get beyond the equipment such as customer service, repairs, etc.

Over the last few years I've been trying to shift my spending from online to local businesses. It's been a miserable failure. Hours and hours wasted trying to avoid the Amazons of the world, only to end up having to order online because local selection is basically non-existant. The town I'm in only has a population of 120k so I don't expect to be able to find niche items, but I've honestly been surprised at just how difficult it is to buy relatively high quality items at all in the local market.

Yup, the local markets often only cater to the entry-level, casual users. That's where their profit margins are. If you need something niche/higher-end your only options are to go online. Otherwise you get the usual response: "We don't have that in stock but can order it online for you. It should be here in 2 - 4 weeks."

That excessive delay probably isn't fundamental and probably represents an opportunity to improve logistics and get that down to 1-5 days depending on how niche and how centrally the customer is located.

Amazon is brilliant for charging the customer 120 bucks a year for shipping and not making them feel the pinch on each transaction.

>The town I'm in only has a population of 120k so I don't expect to be able to find niche items

This caught my eye: is 120,000 people considered a small market?

I grew up in a town of 5,000, work in a small city of 50,000 (which has plenty of amenities, including multiple independent outdoor sports stores) and now live in a village of 200 people.

There isn't a single ramen restaurant in this town. Nor is there any donut or ice cream shop that isn't a chain like Dunkin' Donuts or Cold Stone. The only outdoor store is a hunting store Gander Mountain or a sports oriented store like Dick's Sporting Goods. The only decent kitchen store is a Bed Bath and Beyond. The only "boutique" store I've found that I've found reason to go back to is a grill store, but even they didn't have something pretty basic like a flat burger press. Maybe Cedar Rapids, IA isn't a small market, but it doesn't feel like there are very many local options at all.

Sounds like it might be a demographic problem. Slightly larger town in Colorado here; we probably have 10-15 outdoor sports stores, and half are local.

Actually, I just checked again to make sure I wasn't a liar, and we did get a dedicated outdoor goods store but it wasn't until toward the end of last year. I did also finally get a leather repair shop for my boots who also moved in last year. Hopefully smaller retailers are recognizing a gap in the market and starting to move in. If someone wants to start a hipster ice cream or donut shop, the Cedar Rapids, IA market is all but uncontested.

You don't necessarily need to avoid ordering online to avoid giving money to the giant retail companies. A lot of the best small gear manufacturers sell their gear directly on their websites.

And with those new credit cards that allow you to spin up one time use numbers you don’t even really have to worry so much about a small businesses card handling operation getting hacked which is nice.

Not having a central point of failure for your checking account is a boon these days I think.

You often can't even find the best gear at the big box retail stores. Small companies like Gossamer Gear, Tarptent, etc. make some seriously fantastic outdoor gear. You can't find them without some looking, but it's totally worth it.

Yeah. And in the mountainous areas there's usually a good retailer nearby the local REI flagship. Seattle has like 3 or 4 that I can think of off the top of my head.

I will say that when I went to the local REI here the lady I worked with actually spent about an hour with me fitting a pair of backpacking boots and explaining how and why some of the boots would fail when I wore them. I learned more about my feet from her than from any of the other places I went.

You can get that kind of experience at a lot of the boutique alpine or backpacking stores though.

In the US, having a local REI is pretty close to the only good option. Or Cabela's for some types of gear; they're geared towards hunting/fishing. There are a few other local alternatives with various degrees and types of specialization. But not a lot--and they all tend to pivot more and more towards general clothing over time.

As for repairs, good luck. I took something into an REI recently to get repaired as I had done in the past and it was: "Nope. Don't do repairs any longer. Send it to a place in (somewhat ironically) Seattle."

Outdoor gear is an especially good way to shift your purchasing from online to supporting local retailers, specifically because their pricing is very competitive. Backcountry.com pricing isn't saving me any money vs my local gear stores.

The only problem is actually finding a good outdoor gear store - i'm lucky enough to live in a mountain resort town, so my options are pretty good, but many places simply don't have a local shop.

I can relate to that, I did live in a mountain town with some great local stores. However, I just moved to a larger city but further from the mountains and they have worse local options, at least that I have found.

My only "local options" are national chains (Dick's, Gander Mtn, Bass Pro, etc).

Most of Dick's outdoor equipment is hot garbage.

I honestly tried to shop at Dick's, about a decade ago. (I have spent lots of money at e.g. REI [although I haven't lived near one recently] and Bass Pro in the past .) At Dick's, if I ever had a particular item in mind or a question about an item they did sell, whether that was for hunting, cycling, kayaking/canoeing, snowboarding, skating, whatever: I was always disappointed. So far as I can tell it exists mostly to sell high-marketing-spend branded athleisure apparel. Their recent public stand against 2A and the resulting drop in sales would fit with that...

My time, honestly. It takes a lot more time to stop by at a store and find what I'm looking for or pick up a package from customer service than to simply have it delivered to me with 2-day shipping.

Evo is pretty good as well.

Yes, because Walmart is the shining example of a benevolent company.

I'm not sure why Walmart gets so much hate. They're not the most altruistic company in the world, but I don't remember ever hearing about them suing small companies for trademark BS like this. In fact, I can't recall ever hearing anything really awful about them, other than maybe staff being underpaid.

Compared to really despicable actions I've heard of from so many other behemoth companies, Walmart seems to be relatively benign. Some people complain about them putting small businesses out of business when they open up, but what do you expect when a large retailer opens up nearby and has a big economy-of-scale advantage? My main problem with them is that they tend to have a lot of cheap junk, and not a lot of better stuff, but what do you expect from a retailer that caters to the crowd that wants stuff as cheaply as possible? They also have kinda crappy, dirty stores many times, but again, look at their clientele. So I usually go to Target for that kind of shopping instead, and to Wegman's for other groceries that Target doesn't carry.

> They also have kinda crappy, dirty stores many times, but again, look at their clientele.

The shopping experience at Walmart is really only unpleasant in areas where the "Walmart is gross" meme has pervaded the local psyche enough to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. It probably doesn't help that local governments in such areas do everything they can to deny Walmart's permits and keep them relegated to "not in my backyard".

In most places, Walmart isn't any worse than any other major department store, and shopping there is near-universal. You're more likely to have an incident with another shopper at a place like Target simply because the shopper base that actively selects against Walmart in non-Walmart-hostile areas is much snootier.

This is just plain wrong. Not to far from where I live, there's a Walmart and a Target in the same shopping center. There's a huge, clear difference in shopping between the two. The clientele at Target is clearly more affluent, the store is cleaner and nicer, the carts are nicer and roll silently unlike the beat-up squeaky Walmart ones, I could go on and on. It has nothing to do with "permits" or NIMBY when the two stores are almost right next to each other. I've seen this in other places as well where Walmart and Target were not very far apart.

As for "incidents" with shoppers, I'm not sure what you're talking about there.

Appreciate the counter-anecdote. There is definitely some individual variance between locations depending on local management, overall demographic factors, etc. It wasn't my intention to suggest that every Walmart and every Target are always equally desirable shopping experiences. The main idea is that except in places where Walmart is specifically artificially constrained, it's just as likely to have a bad store or a good store as the next massive conglomerate. :)

Look into WalMart's operations in Mexico, where they've bribed officials into deliberately overlooking protective legislation for historical areas, just so they could get visible placement of stores to catch tourists.

Amongst many other not just questionable but reprehensible moves behind the scenes in many, many places. If they can find a way around the system, they will, and go beyond to bribe people into staying quiet about it.

Even after hearing how bad Amazon's fulfillment centers grind people down, I'd still buy from them before giving WalMart anything.

They're well known for abusing their monopsony power to force brands to offshore production and reduce quality of products.

First they take on a product line and become a big % of the company's sales, then they start tightening the screws and demanding price cuts. The manufacturer has to either give up a large fraction of their total sales or use cost-cutting measures like offshoring and materials substitution to reduce their cost so they can sell at the price Wal-Mart demands. Wal-Mart does this incrementally over time so the company has already started down the road by the time they realize what's being done.

This was a big part of the manufacturing offshoring movement of the last few decades. Of course one company isn't solely responsible for that trend, but Wal-Mart with their huge size was a significant part of it. This was before Amazon was a thing. Now the damage is done and everyone seems to be forgetting that Wal-Mart had a hand in it.

This isn't anything new with Walmart, and it's pretty obvious that's going to happen if one retailer becomes your main customer. Walmart isn't forcing anyone to sell through them, or even to have different product lines (one crappy one for Walmart, another for other retailers), or even different brands. Basically, if you want to sell stuff to Walmart buyers, this is what you need to agree to. If you want to be a higher-end company, then don't deal with Walmart.

Well, economies of scale and significant pressure on suppliers ("Do you want your product in the largest retailer in the world?") to reduce prices, even at the cost of quality. I've noticed many of their high-volume products are lower quality than the same brands at other shops.

If a company does not make a consistent best-faith effort to defend its trademark(s), the claim on those trademark(s) get severely weakened. Companies are thus legally incentivized to defend their trademark (at least in the U.S.). This is a rational decision that has nothing to do with being an asshole (or not). If a company does not have a consistent track record of defending its trademark(s), then their claim gets severely weakened from a legal standpoint. Period, end of story.

And yet, every month there is a story like this in the news of "big company with generic name sues small company with same name" because nobody likes a bully. The problem is, if they DO NOT attack, the trademark claim will become severely diluted and then THEY will become vulnerable to a trademark dispute from someone else down the line, and the other party will point to their lack of historical defense and make an argument that the claim on the trademark is weak.

You're only incentivized not to unreasonably postpone a legal claim. Here, the company seems to exaggerate what a reasonable claim is in the first place.

Thanks for sharing this. I just sent a modified version of your letter to my rep as well.

Same boat here but Eastern Idaho. I’ve been fuming since I saw the article on Saturday. Really happy to see it getting exposure here.

> I wish you nothing but the best on a personal level and hope that your employer chooses to take a better path."

Should be:

"I wish you nothing but the best on a personal level and hope that your employer swiftly goes out of business and leads to reform of trademark laws."

thanks for posting the gofundme. Just donated, I hope others do to.

I had actually been following those Marquette Backcountry Skis thinking some day I might get some. This makes me want them more.

Did she/he answer? If yes, what was it?

Contentless lawyered up canned response.

I got this:

Thanks for your feedback!

Think what you may, but if there is ever a time to use the phrase that you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet its now. Its being handled correctly, and not displayed honestly.

We will be releasing a statement today or tomorrow regarding the issue. We haven’t said anything due to confidentiality agreements, that other parties violated but anyways. I respect your opinion and decision.

Let me know what I can help with gear-wise in the meantime,

Looks like your rep was wrong: https://gearjunkie.com/backcountry-statement-lawsuit-boycott...

Be sure to hold that against them as you continue to take your business elsewhere. This wasn't a mistake or tone-deaf - they simply got caught.

Trademark holders are "required" to defend their registration, failure to do so will result in losing it.

They're not required to choose a word already ubiquitous in their industry and trademark it. They're taking "defense" to a ridiculous, douchy extreme.

Also the accuracy of your claim has already been debunked fairly well elsewhere in the thread.

>They're not required to choose a word already ubiquitous in their industry and trademark it.

That has nothing whatsoever to do with the comment you replied to.

>They're taking "defense" to a ridiculous, douchy extreme.

Unless they did not send letters prior to filing their cases (of which I am unaware and the article did not mention), then everything mentioned is neither ridiculous nor douchey except as far as trademark law in business always is. If the term actually does not indicate to consumers what company manufactured it due to its common usage, all that needs to happen is one of the challenged companies put up a defense claiming genericization or lack of validity of the original trademark (that one is probably more suitable in this case) and a court will decide if that's so. With trademark, as a company you do not get a choice.

If they choose not to fight a small business using the name, that is a 100% legitimate defense for Walmart to use when they release Walmart Backcountry Skis that have nothing whatsoever to do with Backcountry.com.

The EFF article provided by another commenter does not 'debunk' anything. We're not talking about a company suing people for talking about the company. We're talking about a company suing other companies for promoting products in the exact same space with the trademarked name. This is what trademark law was kind of created for in the first place. If you can convince a court that if you walked into a Walmart and saw Walmart Backcountry Skis on sale that it would never cross the mind of either you or any other consumers that the Backcountry company might have been involved in their production, that is your defense and the trademark will be nullified and the lawsuit will be won.

Except that Backcountry.com is suing companies far outside their space, like coffee producers.

And Walmart should be able to sell “Walmart Backcountry Skis” because backcountry skis are a subtype of skis like alpine skis or cross country skis. Backcountry.com did not create the friggin product space or popularize the term “backcountry.” It’s a generic blanket term that refers to an entire range of activities.

I'm gonna go ahead and just disagree with every premise in your comment. "Backcountry skis" are a thing, independent of any brand. This is like if I started a knife company and called it Pocket(TM). I wouldn't want WalMart to start selling "pocket knives", or else I might lose my trademark, huh.

I was not aware of this at all. How did Backcountry get the trademark in the first place? It should definitely fail on the first challenge if backcountry is literally a subtype of ski and pre-existed. I know nothing about skis, and all the comments here and in the article made it sound like the furor was all over the generic adjective of 'backcountry' which I took to just be a synonym for 'rustic'.

The reason it doesn't fail on the first challenge is in the article and it's the same as patent trolls: most of the companies they've gone after can't afford the legal fees, so they simply roll over a lot faster than Philips did. By the time they get to Philips they have years of success getting other companies to, on paper at least, agree with them. Don't know if that strengthens their case in reality, but the fact is Philips sounds the first one to have put up a real fight. It's still a bullshit judicial decision, though.

The argument that they have to do this to defend their trademark also falls apart when you remember why they haven't sued Kohlberg & Co: their trademark was already in use. And by a supplier, no less.

Correct. This article reads like someone who has no knowledge of, or familiarity with, trademark law. Trademarks have to be defended or they are lost, and additionally almost all trademarks are applied to a very broad list of things just as standard practice. Even if your company is only making T-shirts, for instance, it would be very common to also have your trademarks cover toys, dishes, tools, and all kinds of other products just in case you might want to plaster your trademark on those in the future.

That being said, the fundamental purpose of trademarks is to eliminate consumer confusion. In order to defend against a challenge, you would need to present to the court strong evidence that there is very little chance a consumer might be confused as to the maker or origin of the goods due to the name. For instance, if you made a line of frozen pizzas and called them 'backcountry style' pizzas, is there a chance that some consumers might think those pizzas were made by Backcountry.com? You've got to be able to show that this is not a likely scenario even if Backcountry.com starts manufacturing frozen foods (assuming the trademark covers frozen foods, I have no idea if it does, but it wouldn't surprise me if it did).

I developed a website for reserving parking near airports and seaports years ago and the site launched under the name BookParkFly.com. Shortly thereafter, the business (I was just a contracted web developer) received a letter from a lawyer representing the people who owned a sorta-similar trademark in the same space for a company called, if I remember correctly, Park 'N Fly. I personally thought we might have been able to win a challenge in court, but the company didn't want to fight it so changed the name and rebranded everything. (It's Book2Park now if you're curious, but I severed ties with them years ago. Before they were featured on Krebs after getting someone else to slap in an insecure Wordpress blog after I told them if Wordpress was going to be used it had to be watched closely for security concerns...)

Trademark challenges aren't "bullying" or "aggressive". They're basic law 101 and really shouldn't surprise anyone in business. That's why you pay an attorney to do a trademark search if you really want to use a certain name.


A... "rep"... is a company... "rep"resentative. I don't imagine the GP is saying he's going to call the rep nasty names, but it's good to let them know why he's taking his business elsewhere.

Of course not man, from my experience the rank and file at BC are fantastic people. They of course have nothing to do with this. But when I and others tell our gearheads "the faucet is getting turned off" it will (hopefully) develop momentum internally against what's happening.

Or not. There are lots of other players in this space.

> There are lots of other players in this space

Yup, I buy my snowsports gear pretty much exclusively from evo. I love going to the B&M store here in Denver, even though it gets disgustingly crowded sometimes I have never had a bad experience there. Plus their prices are competitive, or at least competitive enough that I don't bother shopping around at this point because I like the service so much.

We're seeing this all over. Even on small scales - my wife just had many of her listings taken down on etsy because a patent troll claimed she owned an entire genre of crafts. This isn't the place to get into details, though, because my instance isn't the problem. Even the people doing the bullying, and etsy letting them get away with it, aren't the full problem. The court system is a bigger part, because many claims have no merit, but people know that not everyone can afford to go through the legal procedures to get that answer declared by a court. We've gotten to a point that you have to have money to fight some battles. Which means sometimes bullies win because others can't afford the fight. And setting up GoFundMe accounts every time someone gets bullied isn't scalable.

We need this to be resolved at a cultural, societal, and/or legislative level.

These abuses are a consequence of "money is free speech" and other court decisions which have moved the US towards one-dollar-one-vote rather than one-individual-one-vote.

Don't downvote this, look up James Buchanan and his 'corporate freedom' school instead, and then come back and say they're wrong.

hint for those as confused as I was: parent means James McGill Buchanan, who won the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. A recent biography has suggested he had a political influence far in excess of what has been reported in the papers.

And just in the news:

T-Mobile says it owns exclusive rights to the color magenta


Another fun story: Chicago-based poke company goes after Hawaiian restaurants over the word 'Aloha': https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/native-hawaiian-a...

"Chicago-based poke company"

Everything about that seems like a bad idea.

Definitely seems fishy to me....

A Florida-based bar did the same with the Fijian equivalent of Aloha: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-45675016

Well that's outrageous.

It's one thing to sue over similar names—I can see a case that people might have misconceptions over products. Saying you own the rights to a color is ridiculous. T-Mobile and Lemonade are in different industries.

I'm OK with that, to a point, within a narrow scope. If you go to grab a chocolate bar off a shelf, you want reasonable assurance that it's what you think you're getting, and not Re-Sees Peanut Butter Caps. Trademarks were an early form of consumer protection.

I still remember when Sony patented (trademarked?) a number.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illegal_number For those who are interested.

There is a fundamental equivalence between numbers and other concepts. Any concept can be mapped to any particular number based on the method of encoding chosen.

Intellectual property is saying that I own this particular result of turning a number into usable output regardless of starting number.

This is to say that we can't tell without actually decoding the number so we are in fact asserting that there is a chance we own any and all numbers if someone later publishes the encoding that would turn your number into a picture of a cartoon mouse.

There is a fundamental equivalence between unique pictures of a cartoon mice and automobiles. Any automobile can be mapped to any particular unique cartoon mouse picture based on the method of encoding chosen.

Automobile ownership is saying that I own this particular result of turning a unique cartoon mouse picture into usable car regardless of starting cartoon mouse picture.

This is to say that we can't tell without actually decoding the cartoon mouse picture so we are in fact asserting that there is a chance we own any and all cartoon mouse pictures if someone later publishes the encoding that would turn your cartoon mouse picture into an automobile.

This makes me think of https://ansuz.sooke.bc.ca/entry/23

It's interesting, and I hope worth spreading in Germany where the laws on this exist, that a company can lay claim to a color and enforce that against other companies who are not competing in the same industry.

I hope that with the proliferation of TLDs this happens often enough that people get sick of it and we start enforcing the rule that generic words like mountain and road can't be trademarked. I'd prefer nothing, including Apple, get grandfathered in. Apple can go back to being Apple Computer or apple.com, whichever they prefer. I'd like the startup community to insist that startups like remote.com keep the .com in their name. Some companies, like hotels.com / hoteles.com still get it :)

What constitutes a generic term? Could I use Rottweiler as a trademarked brand? What about Dog or Canine? What if I combined “generic” terms like DogHead?

I think this proposal is too obtuse. These cases bother us because the man who founded Backcountry Denim was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt to have intended to encroach on the “backcountry.com” brand, nor was it proven that he failed to take reasonable precautions to avoid doing so. If that is the fair and just way to rule on these cases then that should be made to be the way that the judiciary rules. Proof of innocence beyond a reasonable doubt may not be exactly the right burden of proof in this case but the point stands that changing how the judges rule would solve more problems than arguing the semantics of the term “generic”.

In the UK, a trademark has to be associated with a specific product category. A business that isn’t Apple Inc., could set up as “Apple T-shirts” or “Apple Foods” or “Apple Taxis”.

I’m not sure of this is good or bad.

Well, it's what prevents Apple Inc. from suing Safeway over their ridiculous use of the term "apple" to describe red fruit.

> Could I use Rottweiler as a trademarked brand?

You can’t have exclusive use of the name Rottweiler for selling Rottweilers. However, you could register Rottweiler as a trademark for other goods or services. Where the mark isn’t the generic name for the goods, it’s usually an arbitrary or suggestive mark. Or if it’s a made-up word, it’s called fanciful. Your example DogHead would be a fanciful mark.

In short, the mark is always considered in connection with the goods and services with which it is used.

Well, this case also has a nasty smell because Backcountry.com is, having recently launched a new product, just now is deciding that a bunch of existing businesses encroach on its trademark. (And possibly "picking on" smaller businesses, who are likely to have a much lower level of legal resourcing, but that's not completely clear.)

Trademark defense is one thing if you're proactive about it -- and as I understand it this is even a legal requirement for keeping the mark. Attacking another longstanding business because you've changed your business plan is, well, at least mildly sociopathic.

I can’t speak for the world. Here’s India with what I see are reasonable exclusions like colour and even customary terms like Escalator.


> Could I use Rottweiler as a trademarked brand?

No, you didn't create it, many people could've arrived at the same.

> What about Dog or Canine?

No, you didn't create it, many people could've arrived at the same.

> What if I combined “generic” terms like DogHead?

Yes, it requires creativity.

If you can't copyright it then you shouldn't be able to trademark it.

> If you can't copyright it then you shouldn't be able to trademark it.

Copyrights and trademarks aren't comparable in that way; they cover different things. I can't copyright the word "DogHead" or even the phrase "DogHead Software". I can trademark "DogHead Software," and I can copyright works produced under the DogHead Software brand name.

In fact, you could trademark "Rottweiler," especially if you trademarked in conjunction with another word that made it distinctive, e.g. the actual trademarks I've found for "Rottweiler Recordz" (a recording studio) or "Rottweiler Performance" (a motorcycle parts company). Trademarks have to identify specific uses: there's a trademark pending for "Rottweiler" for use for shoe brushes, and the goods and services claimed cover a variety of cleaning brushes. Even if they get the trademark, it doesn't overlap "Rottweiler Performance," and I could file a separate trademark for "Rottweiler" as a beer company.

With respect to "Backcountry," the biggest arguments against the trademark are (a) that "Backcountry" should be considered a "generic mark" (e.g., you can't name your escalator company "Escalator (tm)", and (b) even if Backcountry isn't sufficiently generic to fail that test, Backcountry.com is making too broad a use claim.

They also quietly share/sell your personal info to third parties (along with customer info from subsidiaries CompetitiveCyclist.com, Motosport.com, and SteepandCheap.com). From https://www.backcountry.com/sc/privacy-policy:

“We may share information about you as follows or as otherwise described in this Privacy Policy:

- With third parties for their direct marketing purposes.”

At least as described in the “privacy” policy, this can include purchase history, device, geo location, and more, though just name and address would be bad enough.

Also for the purpose of lawsuits against their customers.

"In September, the website went after David Ollila, a serial entrepreneur who in 2010 created a short ski for climbing snowy hills he called the Marquette Backcountry Ski...Backcountry.com argued that Ollila knew he was intentionally abusing the Backcountry.com mark because he had ordered products from the website in 2002 and 2010."

I guess we have to order some Marquette Backcountry Skis now...

> Motosport.com

Well that's unfortunate to see. Motosport has always been pretty good to me. Looks like I'm finding a new store for dirtbike parts.

Backcountry is descriptive, which makes it a weak trademark. One defendant tried to claim they were in a different category. Why not claim the word is descriptive and argue to invalidate their use of the mark.

One is arguing the term is generic:

"The term ‘backcountry’ is widely used by retailers and consumers to describe products and services to be used in remote, sparsely inhabited, rural areas,” Branch wrote in his counterclaim petition for cancellation, calling backcountry a “generic” term."

It's probably much easier to just say "oh that doesn't apply to us because we're in a different category" than to fight the validity of it in the first place.

Trademarks are granted in specific categories. Wendy's restaurant can have a trademark on "Wendy's" (the rendering of the name in a specific font, the pigtailed girl logo - these are different trademarks than the word mark using "Wendy's"), and Wendy's craft supplies can also have a trademark. Pretty straightforward defense when the hamburger company gets annoying; hard to argue that pins-and-needles can be confused with hamburgers.

But I see your point. I do wonder if any of these defendants have added 'the term is descriptive, and therefore indefensible' to their defense.

Trademarks are granted in specific categories for instance there are at least three large companies using the name delta, airline, electronics, and faucet company.

Also a hotel brand now owned by Marriott.

I contacted EFF about this yesterday and got this response: “Thanks for reaching out to us at the EFF and for making us aware of this issue. I'll share this with the team that works on trademark issues, but in the event you know or speak with anyone being targeted by backcountry.com, please do have them reach out to us!“

Interestingly, backcuntry.com redirects to their website. If they don’t have a trademark on that, they at least exemplify the sentiment.

Looks like a redirect w/ affiliate link

I’ve been on the receiving end of one of these. I used to run the snowboarding blog bckcntry.com and was given an ultimatum by backcountry.com, either take down the blog entirely, or advertise solely for backcountry.com and receive affiliate commissions. I chose the latter.

Sellout! :P

My personal experience has been that a generic phrase in common use cannot be used as a trademark. There has to be something added to it to make it unique. I wonder how they obtained the trademark in the first place?

You can register a trademark for a generic term if it is tied to a very specific category. It is what allows "Apple" to be trademarked when related to computers. The problem here is that "Backcountry" is a term that is too closely tied to what they are actually selling. It would be like allowing a phone company to trademark the term "Cell"

But it's not "Apple" that's trademarked by itself, is it? It's "Apple Computer". As opposed to "Apple Corps" the music company started by the Beatles.

Apple is a word mark. The name of the company is no longer Apple Computer.

Generally speaking you can file a trademark for whatever you want; you just have to show it is being actively used in the way you say it is being used.

That doesn’t mean the trademark will hold up under a challenge. But a challenge takes time and money, and a recurring theme in this story (and many like it) is that one party is way bigger and richer than the other. For a small business, it’s generally going to be way cheaper to just change their name than to take on a federal court case against a national company backed by private equity—even if they think they would win.

This is absolutely why we need a "loser pays" civil court system: interested attorneys should be able to volunteer to take on the case on behalf of the small business, with an agreement with their client that they only get paid if they win. Then when they do, they charge the big corporation an absolutely enormous amount of money in legal fees, which the big company is required to pay.

A system like this would keep frivolous lawsuits to a minimum.

I like this idea until I try honestly to defend myself and fail, and the company says "ok we would like our $10k judgement and $10M legal fees paid today please."

Well it probably needs some adjustments.

So maybe it should be automatic that when a huge company sues a small company and loses, the small company gets all its legal fees paid plus a big payout for their time being wasted.

And maybe it should be different if small companies sue huge ones (e.g., patent trolls), or if small companies sue each other.

Maybe loser pays if they’re the plaintiff.

As I said, I have personal experience with this - the product we were trying to register had sold with that name in the past, but the PTO rejected our application. We never got to the point where a challenge could be made. We resubmitted a new name that had many more qualifiers added, and that one was accepted.

It's just as well, because Microsoft came out with something shortly after that had the same name. Definitely not someone you want to do battle with.

well we had a recent discussion here about basecamp having to run ads to insure their name was top of a search listing. to me their name was more generic than this one. that is the problem with having a corporate name that already has been used in literature if not common discussion. if the name you want is already a reference to what you want to do or what you want to associate with your not really establishing a brand your merely exploiting an existing situation.

google became the term after the name gained popularity, base camp, back country, and such, were terms of activities or places long before someone decided it was a brand.

* edit : the two that stick out in my mind as brands establishing association with the product regardless of who made it would be xerox and Kleenex. In some parts of the world Coke is synonymous with soda.

I don't believe their problem was that terms related to the previous definition of base camp were appearing above them, but that their competitors were appearing above. They were indexed well, but you can pay to be above your competitor when the user is searching for them.

IANAL. But my understanding is that's the case in general. There are apparently some exceptions where a phrase/word has carved out a distinct meaning in the context of a specific company [1] but that wouldn't seem to be the case here.

[1] https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2002/02/can-you-trademar...

> My personal experience has been that a generic phrase in common use cannot be used as a trademark.

Have you never heard of, for example, Facebook?

TBH I'd never heard of "a facebook" (that is a thing, right? I think I learned that at some point from stories about Facebook, and your comment implies it) and even trying to search for "what is a facebook" at this point on Google yields nothing other than Facebook. It certainly wasn't a common term in the Pacific Northwest, where I'm from.

Compare that to "what is backcountry" and I think you'll see the difference.

Same, I had never heard of “a facebook” until the site existed. It’s... something fraternities at rich-ass colleges like the one Zuck went to do/did? Where they collect photographs of their fellow students and accumulate their contact info, vital data, and hotness ratings? I went to college in the eighties and never heard the term.

It's like the yearbook that high schools publish at the end of the year, but colleges published and distributed facebooks near the beginning of the year, so students could get to know their fellow students and promote a sense of... collegiality.

I remember seeing a printed one in 1995. It was an official college of arts and sciences publication, so did not include any hotness ratings or non-academic vital data. Basically names, photos, undergraduate year of study, and majors.

They moved to departmental websites during and after that time, which is how Zuckerberg was able to scrape names and photos for his own skeezy little project.

Sounds like some kind of term that was only known within certain circles, and maybe only at certain colleges. I was in college at that time, and I also never heard the word "facebook" until that company became large enough to be nationally known as the alternative to MySpace.

I think it was more common in smaller populations, either a small school or a unit within a school like a greek organization. Ohio State with 50K students at 10x10 photos per page would yield a 500 page book, and a pointless one at that.

I think most places would just call that a "(student) directory".

Most places, yes. It's even printed on the cover. The word "facebook" was probably exclusive to East Coast US, from DC to Boston. I didn't even know it was a "facebook" until a local called it that.

thefacebook.com was a private re-implementation of Harvard's "online face books", which were a digital ports of the paper "face book" that had been distributed at Harvard for decades prior to the creation of the website.


In case anyone is considering downvoting this response, check this out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Face_book Apparently "face book" was a concept/generic phrase in common use before Facebook was a thing.

Guys, with the exception of safety and climbing equipment, buy all your outdoor equipment used, ideally on the local market. Reduce landfill and save money. Most of the stuff you buy is crap made in China anyway.

It's hard enough to find a decent selection new in the local market. Buying used isn't a viable option.

That's weird because I find a ton of stuff at REI's Garage Sales and on eBay. A little elbow grease, a light dusting of hydrophobic spray, maybe a little patching here and there... and my stuff works great!

Also try Patagonia's Worn Wear site!

My wife & I have somewhat variable success with this method. You can find killer deals if you are an unusual size. But if you're a Medium in men's or a size 6 in women's, good luck finding anything. Perhaps a little counter-intuitively, the most common sizes are picked clean first.

>That's weird because I find a ton of stuff at REI's Garage Sales and on eBay.

I bet you don't live where I live.

But I probably use the same e-commerce sites as you! I'm genuinely curious: where do you live that ebay doesn't deliver?

How is that the local market?

Oh yeah and it teaches you how to repair your gear which is ultra-critical in the backcountry ;)

I wish there was a bullycompanies.com website that listed every bully company, like backcountry.com, with links to their bullying tactics. Then I could quickly check the list before making a purchase.

Such a website would likely be a bully itself, so the list of links to specific instances of bullying should include its list of bullyings. Use of infinite scroll would appropriate here.

Would it have to list bullying itself? Or is that the recursion base case?

The cost in time alone of answering legal calls from the companies listed would make such a site untenable if run properly. And if not run properly it would be so rife with fake information (from disgruntles customers going too far, people trying to blackmail companies with the threat of bad reviews, and competitors crossing the line) so as to be of no real use.

I'm was not thinking of a yelp type of website where people can post whatever they want. I was thinking that all of the links would go to articles written by reputable journalists and newspapers.

Agreed. I would see it as a listing of companies with appropriate citations for the claims as to steer clear of defamation. However, you are still going to be dealing with constant C&D's as a result of the content, regardless of its merit.

As a Denverite I was pleasantly surprised to see the Sun on HN. I did sort of wonder why Backcountry Delicatessen suddenly changed their name to Yampa (yuck) last year, and the article acknowledges the change states the owner was never contacted by backcountry.com. So at least they didn’t cause that monstrosity.

Still, I think I’ve ordered things from them before, but never again.

I was wondering why backcountry changed to yampa as well.

Can’t believe a sandwich shop was targeted by them... and I wonder how business has been impacted.

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