Earlier this year, outdoor clothing retailer Backcountry reportedly started to become more aggressive with regards to its Backcountry trademarks. The company, which operates on its brand match descriptive domain name (Backcountry.com), reportedly went after other companies and websites that were also using Backcountry in their branding. This made many people upset, especially when they learned that some of the companies in Backcountry’s crosshairs had been using the “Backcountry” branding for a long, long time:
There were a lot of upset gear customers this week after news dropped that the e-retailer was suing smaller brands for trademark infringement of the word “backcountry”. https://t.co/rMO5aOd6FC
— Outside Magazine (@outsidemagazine) November 7, 2019
After reading about this, I started thinking about some of the outdoor brand names I use for my coats, and the majority are descriptive brands. For instance, I have jackets from Patagonia, Marmot, North Face, and Columbia. My primary Winter coat, made by Helly Hansen, is the only jacket brand in my closet that would not be considered generic. Even the outdoor retailers where I typically buy my gear have generic names – REI and Amazon.
One of the main issues with companies that use generic brands like the ones I mentioned is that they are difficult to protect. There are always going to be other companies that use the generic term in branding and domain names. Everyone knows Hotels.com of course, but Hotels.com can’t prevent other companies from using domain names like CheapHotels.com, eHotels.com, or ChicagoHotels.com. Those are free game.
When Backcountry.com went after other companies using Backcountry in their branding and domain names, it made a lot of people angry. People have been protesting the brand for its aggression towards other brands. I think there are two lessons that can be learned from this:
1) When a business decides to use a generic brand name, they need to understand other companies will use their name or part of their name within their own branding. There may be a case to be made if the brand is being used in a brandable sense (like Amazon), but if the brand name is being used in the generic sense like Backcountry or Hotels.com, it is probably free game for others.
2) Being aggressive towards other brands related to mutual brand usage can backfire.
I love buying generic domain names, especially when they can be used as an exact match domain name or a brandable domain name. Companies that use a generic domain name in the generic sense need to also understand the downsides to using them.