Online threat against CEO of embattled Backcountry.com prompts response from Summit County Sheriff’s Office
An online threat directed last week at Backcountry.com CEO Jonathan Nielsen amid backlash the company has received due to a controversial trademark-enforcement strategy prompted the executive to relocate his family at least temporarily from their Summit County home, according to a report from the Summit County Sheriff’s Office.
The online retailer’s general counsel, Thomas Jeon, reported the threat to law enforcement Nov. 7, the report states.
Nielsen received an Instagram message that read, “I know where you live a nice little place in (Summit County), and you will suffer dire consequences,” according to Sheriff’s Lt. Andrew Wright.
Backcountry.com has been under fire in recent weeks for filing trademark lawsuits against smaller companies that use the word “backcountry” in their name, as reported by The Colorado Sun. In several cases, the smaller businesses have rebranded rather than face a costly lawsuit.
A Facebook group calling for customers to boycott the retailer had almost 22,000 members as of Tuesday morning.
The threatening message named the CEO’s neighborhood, Wright said, prompting the family to leave the home for safety. It did not contain the home’s address.
The Park Record was unable to contact a spokesperson for the company despite several attempts to do so. It is unclear whether the family was still displaced.
The Sheriff’s Office has added both the home and Backcountry.com’s corporate headquarters in Redstone to its property watch list, likely leading to increased patrols, Wright said.
Wright said it appeared the Instagram account was fake and possibly came from out of state, which adds to the difficulty of tracking down the perpetrator.
“Of course, we take any kind of threat seriously until we can prove (it credible) or not,” Wright said. “If we get these threats, we will do our best to figure out who it is.”
The Colorado Sun reported thousands of former Backcountry.com shoppers have called and emailed the e-commerce giant about the trademark controversy.
In an open letter posted on the company’s website in response to the controversy, Nielsen wrote last week that the company had “clearly misjudged the impact of our actions.”
“We have heard your feedback and concerns, and understand we fumbled in how we pursued trademark claims recently. We made a mistake,” the letter states. “In an attempt to protect the brand we have been building for nearly 25 years, we took certain actions that we now recognize were not consistent with our values, and we truly apologize.”
According to The Colorado Sun, the company is suspending all legal actions. A search Tuesday on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website showed 50 actions the company had taken, with the majority having been terminated or pending a cancellation request. In an interview with The Colorado Sun, the CEO said he hopes to reach deals with the companies.
The Colorado Sun reported that an outside law firm Backcountry.com employed for trademark enforcement sent scores of cease-and-desist letters to businesses in addition to the approximately 50 official actions taken with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
The publication also reported that the legal strategy seemed to focus on smaller businesses that might be more easily cowed when faced with the prospect of a lawsuit.
Larger companies, however, seemed to escape the lawyers’ scrutiny. The Colorado Sun reported that Backcountry Magazine was not contacted, nor was Backcountry Access, a gearmaker owned by a private equity firm.
Backcountry.com was founded in 1996 by two partners selling avalanche beacons out of a garage in Park City, according to its website. Its portfolio now includes several popular outdoor websites, including steepandcheap.com and competitivecyclist.com. In addition to two offices in Utah, it has offices in Virginia; Portland, Oregon; Germany and Costa Rica. It is now owned by San Francisco-based private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners.
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The vote was split 3-1, with Rodney Robbins the lone dissenting vote. Adrianne Anson, Arlin Judd and Cody Blonquist voted for it; Tyler Rowser was absent because of a medical procedure.