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Best Buy Flexes Legal Muscles Over "Geek" 317

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the dibs-on-nerd dept.
siliconbits writes "US Electronics retailer Best Buy has been slow but steady in the fight to protect its Geek Squad trademark, but some are wondering whether the 800-lb gorilla of the tech retailing sector is going too far in its war to right some wrongs. The word 'Geek' is a century-old word that used to mean 'fool' or 'crazy,' but has, since the beginning of the 1980s, been associated with fans of technology in general and computers in particular. That hasn't prevented a number of geek-themed companies from being hit by Best Buy's legal team over the last decade, including Geek Housecalls, Rent a Geek, Geek Rescue, Speak with A Geek and, not surprisingly, arch-rival Newegg."
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Best Buy Flexes Legal Muscles Over "Geek"

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  • Typical (Score:5, Funny)

    by MikeB0Lton (962403) on Monday June 20, 2011 @11:06AM (#36500624)
    If you can't compete with them, sue them. It worked for SCO!
    • I'm not sure if their case is correct, but all the groups listed in the summary aren't just using "geek". They are using it in conjunction with tech support.

      "Geek Housecalls, Rent a Geek, Geek Rescue, Speak with A Geek"

      • Re:Typical (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mikael_j (106439) on Monday June 20, 2011 @11:49AM (#36501206)

        So? "Geek" is a common term to describe, well, geeks. So to use the term "geek" as part of the name of a company or service that gives tech support to end users makes a lot of sense and I just don't see how it can be a protected term.

  • Frankly... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday June 20, 2011 @11:08AM (#36500640) Journal
    I'd say that the world's questionably-socially-adept technology enthusiasts have a much better defamation case against Best Buy's appropriation of the term for their "Geek Squad"...
    • by nospam007 (722110) *

      The Nerd-Herd?

    • by Whalou (721698)

      questionably-socially-adept technology enthusiasts

      I've never been to Best Buy but from what I understand the "Geek Squad" appears to be filled with questionably-technology-adept social enthusiasts. And even then, the social part is possibly a stretch.

      • Re:Frankly... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworld@gma ... minus herbivore> on Monday June 20, 2011 @11:29AM (#36500924) Homepage
        At least they don't call it "the Genius Bar." Biggest. Misnomer. Ever.
      • by hedwards (940851)

        Geek Squad was from what I understand actually fairly helpful prior to being taken over by BestBuy. These days though, they're more known for stealing porn from consumers and general ineptitude. 9 Confessions Of A Former Geek Squad Geek [consumerist.com]

        • by SomePgmr (2021234)
          I have to say, if I'm calling around to various retail locations looking for anything less common and vague than "i need more GB's", "more rams sticks" or an iphone... I don't mind calling bestbuy and hitting the number for their geek squad employees. They usually understand what I'm asking for... even if BB doesn't have it or charges 900% of msrp.
          • Re:Frankly... (Score:5, Informative)

            by Scragglykat (1185337) on Monday June 20, 2011 @01:15PM (#36502508)
            That's because the true purpose of a Geek Squad employee is not to fix your technology, but to sell you NEW technology in its place. They are more a squad of technology salesmen (and women I assume) than tech support staff. I've had to tell someone who unwisely chose the Geek Squad to be their technology benefactor, that although GS told them their computer was consumed with malware and thus, the entire system would not start (see also, would not even post), and that the fix would be $50 less than the new system they could sell them which would then be ready to go right now, vs. a week or more later, that the new system they purchased from Best Buy on the "Geek's" recommendation was a waste of money. A quick flick of the power switch on the old machine alerted me to the fact that it did not even attempt to post and that the power light was flickering in a pattern. Quick Google search for power light error codes and what do I find? PSU is bad. $20 later, the machine is booted, I'm scanning away on the drive and finding absolutely nothing. Morale of the story is, they are salesmen and nothing more. They MAY be able to help you with something, but most of the time that help is going to lead to some additional sale.
      • Re:Frankly... (Score:4, Informative)

        by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Monday June 20, 2011 @11:47AM (#36501174) Homepage Journal

        Based on anecdotal evidence found on the web - that is no longer true. It seems that the "geeks" have been put out to pasture, and Best Buy has hired "sales" people to replace them. Today, calling the "Geek Squad" means some sales oriented person comes to your house, runs some automated software to clean up viral infestations, and to find obvious hardware and software problems. Based on what he finds, that sales person then offers all sorts of (possibly un-) necessary hardware, software, and/or services. Geek Squad members are graded on the sales they make, rather than the computers they fix.

  • Use in Commerce (Score:5, Informative)

    by Theaetetus (590071) <theaetetus.slashdot@nospam.gmail.com> on Monday June 20, 2011 @11:09AM (#36500650) Homepage Journal
    Before this thread goes off the rails about Best Buy trying to censor free speech, under US law (the Lanham Act), trademark rights apply only to uses in commerce. So you can be a geek, call people geeks, this article can discuss geeks, that's all fine. However, when you start a "Squad o'Geeks" computer repair service, only then are you going to run into a potential problem.

    Note: this doesn't mean it's a slam dunk for Best Buy... Newegg's defense is that "geek" is a generic term, and it could well be. The point is just that trademarks only apply to commercial speech.

    • And only to deceptive use. Walk into a pharmacy or grocery store or something, pick up the nearest store-brand OTC medication or toothpaste or whatever and it will say "Compare to $COMPANY(r) $PRODUCT(r) active ingredients*"

      "*This product is not manufactured or distributed by $COMPANY owner of the registered trademark $PRODUCT(r)."

      If they can establish that the competing service is using a name(or name/branding/color scheme/etc. of which the Geek Squad has a fairly well-developed, if hideous, flavor)
      • Re:Use in Commerce (Score:4, Informative)

        by Theaetetus (590071) <theaetetus.slashdot@nospam.gmail.com> on Monday June 20, 2011 @11:24AM (#36500866) Homepage Journal

        If they can establish that the competing service is using a name(or name/branding/color scheme/etc. of which the Geek Squad has a fairly well-developed, if hideous, flavor) calculated to deceive the customer, the competing service is in for a world of hurt. If, on the other hand, "geeks" are a generic category of technical service providers, "Rent A Geek" and "Geek Squad" sound pretty much nothing alike. If an orange and black car containing a "Squad o'Geeks" wearing goofy uniforms pulls up, though, game over...

        Well, there's part of the problem... Newegg put up a television add with a big electronics store and a guy in a blue polo shirt fixing computers, and they use black and orange colors in the logo.

        Also, the fact that "Rent a Geek" and "Geek Squad" sound nothing alike isn't that relevant... You don't have to directly confuse the two marks - rather, the test for infringement is whether a reasonable person would think that "Rent a Geek" refers to or associated with Best Buy's service.

        And finally, remember that the "reasonable person" is one in the market. No Slashdot person would confuse Best Buy and Newegg, or Geek Squad and Rent a Geek... but we also wouldn't be caught dead using those services. Your 80 year old grandmother who wants the emails and the 3Gs to send an internets to her grandkid is the relevant market, and you can bet she's going to be confused between Geek On and Geek Squad, particularly if they're both in blue polos with orange and black logos.

        • Re:Use in Commerce (Score:5, Interesting)

          by bluefoxlucid (723572) on Monday June 20, 2011 @11:44AM (#36501124) Journal

          Yes but that particular test is faulty because you can find "a" person who "doesn't give a shit and just wants this shit fixed" in 90% of the market. 90% of the market is not reasonable. 90% of the market that shows up at Best Buy's Geek Squad will think the Genius Bar at Apple is the same thing... Geek Squad, Geek Bar, whatever.

          By the way, Best Buy says (internally--this is company proprietary information) that Geek Squad's revenue is supposed to be about 80%; however, each Geek Squad "Agent" gets paid $10.50-ish an hour, maybe $15/hour in the upper tiers, more for out-of-store service. In-store is 80%, which means a revenue of 5 times the $84/day you make, or $420/day in services sold. In truth, however, they push for around $200/hour or about $1600/day.

          Think about it. If it's slow up front, one machine an hour is a $60 "diagnostic" service, already breaking (at $10.50/hr) the $52.50 you need to make. While there's no customers, you do all the bench work; it's minimal. Now, diagnostic is mandatory (if you come in saying "I have a virus" it's "We must do a diagnostic, $60"), but I *think* the actual repair is discounted ... so if it's a $30 repair, you pay $60 total.

          But that'll get you in a load of trouble (I know, I was fired for minimizing profits), so what normally happens is they run the anti-virus installed and it can't remove a virus (funny) or otherwise doesn't fix the problem. Then they tell you, $70 to back up any files, $60 to re-install the OS, $30 to run Windows Update and apply all patches, $30 per software package (Anti-virus, Anti-Spyware, Office) being installed... totals out to a good $250, plus the original repair, over $300 for one customer.

          I used to peer at the output and notice what was being found "protected" and irreparable; when you reboot, that file is encrypted and can't be scanned by the offline virus scanner, so it misses the virus. But since the online scanner told you it's in C:\Program Files\Common Files\wx3pd12.exe ... you go rename it to .ex_ and reboot. System works? Remove the file. Problem solved, and you just saved the customer $250 with 5 minutes of extra work. Now your supervisor is pissed and you get fired.

        • by DarKnyht (671407)

          Apparently you did not watch the video in the article (which isn't a surprise since odds are you didn't read the story). The commercial shows a box store salesperson in a blue polo taking the camera (the customer) to the laptop sales section. The customer asks the simple question, "What's the difference between the two" and the rest of the commercial is watching the salesperson struggle to answer the question. There is absolutely zero mention of Geek Squad, and the word Geek would not be in the commercia

    • Apple is also a generic term, being the name of a fruit. How about I try to set up a computer company using it? I could use some new innovative core design and call my company Apple-core.

      My tagline can be: Growing Innovation Depends on your Core
      • Re:Use in Commerce (Score:5, Informative)

        by Theaetetus (590071) <theaetetus.slashdot@nospam.gmail.com> on Monday June 20, 2011 @11:38AM (#36501058) Homepage Journal

        Apple is also a generic term, being the name of a fruit. How about I try to set up a computer company using it? I could use some new innovative core design and call my company Apple-core.

        Apple is a generic term for apples. It's not a generic term for anything else. Specifically with regard to Apple Computers, it's an arbitrary term, which is one of the strongest protected categories of trademarks. More info here [veritrademark.net] or here [bitlaw.com], essentially layman's guides to the Federal Circuit decision in Abercrombie & Fitch Co. vs. Hunting World, Inc.

        • From TFS "The word 'Geek' is a century-old word that used to mean a fool or crazy"

          Geek is also a generic term for fool or crazy, which has been specifically used in this case (since 1980s) to refer to people of a technical, but not so social, persuasion.

          So Apples are generic for fruit, but specific for a certain computer firm. I'm not against trademarking, I'm quite certain that Best Buy will come out the victor here, I just think that Newegg's defense is somewhat naive. They are hoping to use the "big evil
        • by ShakaUVM (157947)

          >>Specifically with regard to Apple Computers, it's an arbitrary term

          Geek is a term for people who like computers and other nerdy things. It would be like Best Buy trying to trademark "The Computer Guys". I.e., I don't think they can. But it depends on how much money Newegg has for lawyers, I guess.

    • And the term "Geek" had been used in commerce, in the same industry, for years if not decades before Worst Buy stole the term and started their Geek Squad. They can trademark "Geek Squad" but they have no claim to other combinations including the generic term "geek." Although I wouldn't mind if they claimed sole rights to the term "moronic" as in "Moronic Techs" or "Moronic service" which is actually what you get when you go the that place.
      • And the term "Geek" had been used in commerce, in the same industry, for years if not decades before Worst Buy stole the term and started their Geek Squad.

        Doesn't matter... There's no such thing as prior art in trademark law - only if there's someone else currently using the mark.

        • You are correct, there is no such thing as "prior ART" but there is such a thing as "prior and still currently using the mark" which is what I was talking about. There are likely thousands of small companies around the country, if not the world, who were using "Geek" in their PC repair business names AND STILL ARE. Just because Worst Buy has more money they think they can muscle and threaten their way to dominance by suing all these small businesses. So how much did you get paid to sell your soul? Because
          • You are correct, there is no such thing as "prior ART" but there is such a thing as "prior and still currently using the mark" which is what I was talking about.

            What, really? No, please, condescendingly explain more. Obviously, from my "only if there's someone else currently using the mark" statement I don't understand this concept of someone currently using the mark.

        • by whoever57 (658626)

          Doesn't matter... There's no such thing as prior art in trademark law - only if there's someone else currently using the mark.

          Maybe not prior art, but you can't get trademark protection for "descriptive" marks.

          • by AJH16 (940784)

            Well see, since Best Buy's Geek Squad is actually a sales force, they aren't actually geeks so it isn't a descriptive mark... /s

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Before this thread goes off the rails about Best Buy trying to censor free speech, under US law (the Lanham Act), trademark rights apply only to uses in commerce. So you can be a geek, call people geeks, this article can discuss geeks, that's all fine. However, when you start a "Squad o'Geeks" computer repair service, only then are you going to run into a potential problem.

      Except that except for the fact that someone tried to turn it into a trademark ... the people doing the computer repair service were pre

    • by ArhcAngel (247594)
      Except a few of the aforementioned companies existed prior to Best Buy IIRC.
    • by The Moof (859402)
      The Newegg commercial was in TFA. No mention of a squad to be seen or heard. While the commercial itself was a parody (generic kid in a blue polo shirt appearing uninformed about the difference between 2 laptops), the use of geek is literally the tag line "Take it from a geek." Seems more like a slam dunk for Newegg after watching the commercial if BB is solely going after the use of "geek."
  • by FatAlb3rt (533682) on Monday June 20, 2011 @11:13AM (#36500716) Homepage
    Maybe CompGeeks [geeks.com] should take issue with Best Buy - they've been doing the geek thing for 15 years.
    • by hedwards (940851)

      OTOH, perhaps they should be thankful that people are forgetting about them. I used to buy things from them in the past. But I stopped about the time they stopped posting full spec lists. I had to return several things in a row because they didn't get the spec list right, and much of what they were selling was unbadged or obscure.

      I ended up not bothering to return the last one because after I paid for shipping all they were willing to give me was store credit that I wouldn't use because I had bought that it

    • I believe that the Geek Squad existed before that, of course I could be wrong. At that point they weren't part of best buy but were an actual respectable company that did good work. I know in 97 I had them actually repair the screen on my laptop (a used dell with a 486 dx4 processor with 36MB ram). They actually disassembled it and fixed the screen which had a large orange rectangle in the upper right corner. I think it only cost like $25 or $30 at the time.
  • by rubycodez (864176) on Monday June 20, 2011 @11:13AM (#36500720)
    Geeks are supposed to be crazed circus side show freaks that bite the heads off of chickens.

    http://youtu.be/JNM4atakanI [youtu.be]
  • by The O Rly Factor (1977536) on Monday June 20, 2011 @11:15AM (#36500748)
    We're losing customers to Newegg! We need to stop price gouging our repair services! We need to hire actually knowledgeable and well trained sales representatives! We need to carry a better selection of components that aren't grossly overpriced! We need to .... ah screw it too much overhead let's just sue them over use of the word geek.
  • This really makes me wonder how far one should be allowed to use common terms. In this particular case, the argument is against the decades-old term "geek". How far should companies wanting to engage in commerce be allowed to take a trademark? To me, even the example of the word "geek" is ridiculous, but if you want the most extreme form of insanity when it comes to current copyright/trademark laws, iAnyone doesn't have to iLook any further than Apple, and their iMonopoly over a single letter. At what p

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Theaetetus (590071)

      This really makes me wonder how far one should be allowed to use common terms. In this particular case, the argument is against the decades-old term "geek". How far should companies wanting to engage in commerce be allowed to take a trademark? To me, even the example of the word "geek" is ridiculous, but if you want the most extreme form of insanity when it comes to current copyright/trademark laws, iAnyone doesn't have to iLook any further than Apple, and their iMonopoly over a single letter. At what point should we draw the line?

      But Apple doesn't have a monopoly over the single letter (and, in fact, they haven't successfully asserted family rights in the i- prefix either yet). And "iPod" or "iMac" or "iCloud" certainly aren't common words.

      Where should the line be drawn? It depends on the case. We can go as narrow as need be. If "geek" is a generic term and "squad" is generic, then what about "geek squad" together? No one but Best Buy is using that, so maybe we only give them protection over the combination, and "Geek On" or "Squa

      • by geekmux (1040042)

        ...But Apple doesn't have a monopoly over the single letter (and, in fact, they haven't successfully asserted family rights in the i- prefix either yet). And "iPod" or "iMac" or "iCloud" certainly aren't common words.

        Cloud is a very common word. Hell, the meaning of the word didn't even change within the context of networking. Add a single letter to it, and poof!, instant trademark that is almost immediately assumed associated with Apple? Sure smells like a single-letter monopoly to me.

        I'll believe that they don't have a monopoly over a single letter used with something like the VERY generic word "cloud" when someone can sue them and actually win. Then I'll believe it. Until then, they DO have a monopoly if for no

        • ...But Apple doesn't have a monopoly over the single letter (and, in fact, they haven't successfully asserted family rights in the i- prefix either yet). And "iPod" or "iMac" or "iCloud" certainly aren't common words.

          Cloud is a very common word.

          I know. That's why you'll notice that I said "iCloud".

          Legally, a trademark must be viewed in its entirety. You can't excise part of a mark in order to claim that the remaining part is generic.

          • by geekmux (1040042)

            ...But Apple doesn't have a monopoly over the single letter (and, in fact, they haven't successfully asserted family rights in the i- prefix either yet). And "iPod" or "iMac" or "iCloud" certainly aren't common words.

            Cloud is a very common word.

            I know. That's why you'll notice that I said "iCloud".

            Legally, a trademark must be viewed in its entirety. You can't excise part of a mark in order to claim that the remaining part is generic.

            I do understand what you are saying here. However, my point with Apple still stands. Say you were a small business called ICloud Networking, offering cloud DR services with an OSX app...and all of the sudden Apple chooses to start using "iCloud". While not an exact match, it's likely close enough to start crushing your business. You're a small business. Even though you might have a slam-dunk case, how much can you afford to go against Apple? Take a look at nissan.com...you'll notice that isn't Nissan

            • Say you were a small business called ICloud Networking, offering cloud DR services with an OSX app...and all of the sudden Apple chooses to start using "iCloud". While not an exact match, it's likely close enough to start crushing your business. You're a small business. Even though you might have a slam-dunk case, how much can you afford to go against Apple?

              That's why, if you're smart, after you offer to settle with Apple, you approach Amazon and see if they want to pay for representation in your lawsuit in exchange for some or all of the proceeds, on the grounds that they might be interested in preventing Apple from obtaining the mark.

    • The trademarking of two common words has been around forever. ie Sun Computers, International Business Machines, Internet Explorer, etc.
  • by MoldySpore (1280634) on Monday June 20, 2011 @11:21AM (#36500828)

    If the "Geek Squad's" track record [geeksquadreviews.com] indicates anything, it is that they are not worthy of the title "geek" anything.

    Anyone who brings their computer to Best Buy for service either 1) Has never brought their computer to best buy for service before, 2) Is too stupid to know any better, or 3) Have no friends who have even a remedial knowledge of IT.

  • I guess CmdrTaco had the wisdom to see this coming when he created a website with "News for Nerds." Just imagine what type of trouble /. would be in if it was "Gadgets for Geeks" or something along those lines!

  • by CODiNE (27417) on Monday June 20, 2011 @11:31AM (#36500962) Homepage

    They only used "Geek Squad" because everybody already knew what it meant. Therefore, it's not theirs.

  • by mcgrew (92797) *

    It didn't mean "fool or crazy", a "geek" was someone who ate live animals. 1920s goldfish swallowers, for example.

    • It comes from the Low German word "geck" meaning fool or crazy. Sideshow or freak show circus wild (as in crazy) men were called "geeks", and to demonstrate craziness did such stunts as biting chicken's heads off and swallowed and regurgitated live goldfish. In the 1930s, goldfish swallowing was a fad in colleges and was sometimes called being a geek.
  • by brainzach (2032950) on Monday June 20, 2011 @11:42AM (#36501088)

    The title is misleading. Best Buy is defending uses of the word Geek in a context that can be confused with the brand Geek Squad.

    Here is a photo of the alleged infringement. [ipbrief.net]

    After looking at the logos, it doesn't look like Best Buy has much of a case. I don't see how a reasonable person can confuse the two usages.

  • Newegg dominates the shit out of Best Buy. Newegg is possibly the best computer / electronics retailer, while Best Buy is possibly the worst.

  • by JobyOne (1578377) on Monday June 20, 2011 @12:00PM (#36501378) Homepage Journal

    I hate big box repair services so much.

    I once had what seemed to be a dud power supply, and I went to the Circuit City near my house because I knew they would have something that would work to replace it. I also figured they would have one of those gadgets for testing power supplies. So I took the power supply out and headed over.

    Their support desk said they really preferred to troubleshoot the whole computer, then suggested I go home, put the power supply back in the case, then bring the whole thing back in and pay them $100 just to look at it. I said "no, it's almost certainly just the power supply, just plug it into that thing" and pointed at the tester sitting on the table next to them. After some convincing the guy finally did, and that was when it got *super* scam-tastic.

    Luckily I could look over the counter and see that not all the green lights were on when he said "nope, looks like it works fine." I asked him why the +12V rail light hadn't come on, and he tried to tell me that it should work fine, even without +12V, and that that's normal. Of course that gave him an opening to try - again - to tell me to go home, put the (obviously defective) power supply back in the case and bring the whole thing in so they could get $100 just to put it on a shelf for a few days before calling me and saying "you don't have an operating system." To which I would say "no shit, I just built it and it's never even been powered on. Is the power supply broken? Of course it is, you dumb fucks."

    If they had the balls to try and pull that shit on somebody like me, who comes in sporting a geek beard, holding a very fancy power supply and knowing at a glance which of their tools I need to borrow for 15 seconds...I shudder at the thought of what they must have pulled on people like - say - my mother.

    I doubt any large chain repair service is any better. I hope the Geek Squad chokes and dies.

    • If they had the balls to try and pull that shit on somebody like me, who comes in sporting a geek beard, holding a very fancy power supply and knowing at a glance which of their tools I need to borrow for 15 seconds...I shudder at the thought of what they must have pulled on people like - say - my mother.

      I doubt any large chain repair service is any better. I hope the Geek Squad chokes and dies.

      Sometimes I wonder if they truly know. I had a "consultation" for home theater install (it was free and I was looking for some advice). I told the GS guy what I was looking for - he proceeded to take a few measures and promise a quote and recommendations. When I got it it was a long list of (expensive) items that would cost as much as a small car, (they seem to simply check every expensive item they sell); when I started asking questions all I got was blank stares. Needless to say, I'm not to impressed wi

    • They might have been trying to scam you but you come of as an ass for trying to "borrow" their tools to fix your problem without paying them. I mean would you go into a random automotive mechanic and ask to borrow their testing equipment because you think you know what is broken in your car? Do you like it when people barge into your work and waste your time? I mean I could understand if you bought the PSU from them but otherwise you come off as an ass.

      Also any real geek knows those power supply testers are

  • by efinAVguy (2287902) on Monday June 20, 2011 @12:39PM (#36501976)
    Best Buy and the Corporate World in general should not be allowed to steal common words. Dumb just like patents that last forever. I would think 25 years should be plenty. Holds back invention and competition as it is.
  • Being that the term "geek" is somewhat of a generic term, I thought the proper legal method here would be to do what the Science Fiction Channel did a few years ago, and redefine their brand as "Syfy". So you could rewrite "geek" as "geak" or "geke",. . .
  • will be the Greek nation. However, Best Buy may instead opt to buy them out for 200,000 Euros.
  • Geeks bite the heads off of chickens. I'd rather be a member of the Nerd Herd than the Geek Squad.

    Of course, if you throw Yvonne Strahovski into the mix, I don't think anyone would pick geek over nerd.

    2 cents...

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