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The "slovenly" faux-Best Buy employee is pictured in Newegg's latest commercial; a real Best Buy employee is pictured in a separate image. Can you tell which is which?  (Source: M-Live, YouTube)

Best Buy is also upset about Newegg's new "Geek On" Logo, which it says violates its Geek Squad-related trademarks.
Commercial depicts clueless blue-shirted employee struggling to explain products to customers

Is it illegal to show a video of a blue polo-wearing employee in a computer store?  Best Buy's legal staff appear to think so.

I. Best Buy Upset About "Slovenly", "Uninformed" Employee Depiction

They sent a legal threat to City of Industry, California-based online retailer Newegg.com for a new commercial that found its way onto TV and on YouTube, the world's most used video sharing site.  Best Buy writes:
We... recently learned that Newegg is running a commercial on television and YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nYk0dQrz3uc&feature=youtu.be" rel="nofollow) depicting a blue-shirted salesperson in a store with a similar layout/color scheme to a Best Buy store, so as to represent a Best Buy employee.  The fake Best Buy employee is depicted as slovenly and uninformed about computer products, in contrast to your employees who are portrayed as "experts."

Your... negative portrayal of our employees violates trademark rights and misleads customers about our services, in violation of federal and state law.  While we welcome fair competition, we cannot tolerate unfair competition that disparages our employess, confuses our customers and damages our valuable trademarks and goodwill associated with those marks.  We take great pride in our employees and the high quality of customer service they offer and find your company's focus on our employees in this advertising campaign particularly offensive.  We expect that you would be equally offended if the tables were turned and a competitor launched an advertising campaign portraying your employees as slovenly and uninformed.
To be fair, the employee pictured doesn't appear particularly "slovenly" -- a trip to your local Best Buy store will reveal he in fact is pretty much the norm -- the store is home to the world's most well-coiffed employees in our experience.

In reality, Best Buy may be getting a little uncomfortable as the ad hits a bit too close to home.  One YouTube commenter (uprated 125 times) remarks:
Sadly, this IS what best buy is.

There's a reason knowledgeable people don't shop at best buy, and poor consumers get ripped off without even knowing it.
Another comments, "oh man this commercial is giving best buy employees? too much credit."

The encounter depicted is in line with our staff's personal interactions with Best Buy sales staff across the country, as well.  For example, when shopping for a laptop in 2008, floor sales staff at two separate local Best Buy stores were unable to properly assess laptop graphics performance and were unaware of current mobile graphics card offerings.  

In both cases it took several employees in the computer department to find one that could compared and contrast offered processors in a technically sound manner.  And in both cases, the employees suggested that the DailyTech staffer "apply for the Geek Squad" as they "seem to know a lot about computers."

Of course, these experiences are limited, but based on feedback on YouTube and Facebook it seems we're not the only ones who have encountered this.

The broader question is whether depicting a company in an unfavorable manner -- without using specific logos or brand names -- is illegal.  In this regard Best Buy's legal chances seem poor, given that Verizon Communications, Inc.'s (VZ) successfully defended in court its right to air far more flagrant commercials attacking AT&T, Inc. (T); and the fact that Deutsche Telekom AG's (DTE) T-Mobile USA and Apple, Inc. (AAPL) have both [1][2] aired similar commercials attacking their competitors' products or brands by name.

II. Logo Abuse?

Best Buy also alleges that Newegg.com is abusing its trademarks pertaining to the Geek Squad -- namely, the use of the colors black and/or orange in relation to the terms "geek" or a power button logo.

Newegg.com has recently started a new services campaign [GIF] dubbed "Geek On", which shows an orange power button as the 'O' in "ON", next to black or white "GEEK" text (depending on the color of the backdrop).  The campaign pitches Newegg.com support and sales, and the company has been distributing promotional T-shirts as a part of the campaign.

Best Buy's lawyers write:
We recently learn that Newegg is using a stylized GEEK ON design in orange-and-black font with the "O" in "ON" depicted as a power button (the "Geek on Logo") with a new marketing campaign for Newegg's consumer electronics retail services.  We understand Newegg is using this design on its website, its Facebook site, and in connection with promotional items for Newegg's services such as t-shirts.  An illustrative use of the Geek On Logo is attached as Exhibit B.

Given Best Buy's long-standing prior use of the GEEK SQUAD mark, Geek Squad Trade Dress, and Tie and Power Button Design, Best Buy is concerned that Newegg's use of the Geek On Logo is likely to create confusion among consumers and to dilute the distinctive quality of the GEEK SQUAD mark in violation of Best Buy's trademark rights.  Best Buy is particularly concerned because the Geek On Logo features the GEEK-component of Best Buy's GEEK SQUAD mark, is depicted in the same orange-and-black color scheme as Best Buy's Geek Squad Trade Dress, features a power button design that is very similar to the Geek Squad Tie and Power Button Design, and is used to promote Newegg's competing consumer electronics retail services.
Whether anyone would actually "confuse" Best Buy and Newegg, is debatable, but Best Buy may have a bit more of a leg to stand on here.  Apple has in the past brought several similar lawsuits claiming violation of its logo [1][2][3].  Similarly, George Lucas has successfully brought several Star Wars related trademark lawsuits against small firms [1][2].

In other words, regardless of whether its fair or not, legal precedent has shown that marginally related logos and text can be grounds for a successful court case by the trademark originator against the late adopter.

III. What's Next?

Newegg.com does not appear to be backing down from either campaign and defiantly posted Best Buy's letter on its Facebook page.

A cease and desist letter is a legal tactic in which one party sends the other a letter formally warning them not to repeat certain actions like stalking.  If they violate the terms, they can face criminal and civil penalties under U.S. law.


Typically, a cease and desist letter is followed by a lawsuit if the addressed party does not comply.  It's now just a waiting game to see if Best Buy backs up its threats with legal muscle.

In the meantime all Best Buy's fuss is generating loads of free publicity for Newegg.com's commercial, which has already gathered 413,000+ views.

Best Buy sent a similar threat last year to a priest who used the slogan "God Squad" and drove a Volkswagen Beetle painted similar to those used by the Geek Squad.  The company does not appear to have followed up on that threat with any substantial legal action, perhaps because of the backlash that stories about the threat caused. 


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RE: as a tech
By JasonMick (blog) on 6/10/2011 2:18:28 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
As a consumer tech, I am constantly fixing up issues that Geek Squad made worse on customer computers. They charge an insane amount of money to do half assed work and when they can't fix a problem right away, they just tell the customer the machine needs to be reformatted. Then the customer leaves with a factory reset computer (that can be done with a few button clicks) and 300-400 gone from their wallet. Or they pull the "well you shouldn't fix this computer, but we have all these new ones for you to buy".

Total scam, but hey, it makes me look good since I charge realistic pricing and actually do a good job...

A while back I received a laptop from BB as a gift and purchased one of their warranties as laptop hardware repairs can be tricky to impossible and the manufacturer's warranty was pretty limited at the time.

At the time BB's policy was to "lemon out" laptops with 5+ hardware replacements. This worked out nicely for me as the system had several components failures over a year and a half (it was a kind of notoriously bad older P4 HP design).

But the dark side of BB was encountered on my replacement machine, which had the motherboard go bad. Initially Geek Squad misdiagnosed it as an HDD failure. Rather than give me the supposedly damaged drive, they shipped it off. I contacted them several times trying to make sure I got my HDD back, but in the end they announced to me that they drilled holes in it, as per their company policy.

Later I found out that the HDD likely had no issues... the motherboard was going bad and caused the "new" HDD to experience similar problems.

After that experience I learned never to do support business with BB, no matter how attractive the warranty/replacement policy seems.


RE: as a tech
By icanhascpu on 6/10/11, Rating: 0
RE: as a tech
By AssBall on 6/11/2011 3:26:18 PM , Rating: 2
They drill holes in the hard drives they think are bad so that any data on it is virtually unreadable. That's my guess.

If someone wanted to steal your porn they would have to install new voice coils, motors and use some crazy FBI crap to retrieve the data after it had holes drilled through it. I'm pretty sure you can't "go ape sh_t" on them for trying to protect your security/privacy.


RE: as a tech
By Bad-Karma on 6/13/2011 4:08:23 AM , Rating: 2
I guess you wouldn't like our method at all then....Once pulled, many of our drives have to be put through what is called a level 6 disintegrator. Its basically a giant hopper that feeds the drives into several sets of rotating Titanium/beryllium & high carbon alloy hammers. Each set gets progressively smaller but faster. What comes out the other end of the machine looks like, and is about the size of, glitter.

We've had people turn in a drive and then come back a couple of days later and ask if its too late to recover a file. Sure no-problem......


RE: as a tech
By FITCamaro on 6/13/2011 5:05:25 PM , Rating: 2
Hand them a bag of the "glitter", a beer, and wish them the best of luck.


RE: as a tech
By AerieC on 6/13/2011 1:19:11 PM , Rating: 2
Your story reminds me of one of mine.

One of my girlfriend's friends was having issues with a laptop from best buy. She knew that I was going to school for software engineering so she asked me if I could help her out. She explained what was happening over the phone and from what she told me it sounded like her hard drive was failing. Since the laptop was still under warranty she took it in to geek squad to get it fixed, and she mentioned to the clerk that I had told her it was probably the hard drive. The clerk noted what she said and said they'd take a look.

A week or so later, they told her to come back in. They had replaced the motherboard and put the same HDD back in the machine. They also told her that she had "viruses and stuff", and told her she should install some antivirus software. Needless to say, when she got home and tried to boot up her computer, she was having the exact same issues.

She brought her laptop back in and ended up talking to the person she originally talked to who noted that the HDD was likely the issue. They found it weird that the techs would replace the motherboard under those circumstances, so they went to check the original work order to see why they ignored the HDD comment.

It hadn't been touched.

So they ended up replacing the HDD and everything was peachy (imagine that).

Cost of replacing the motherboard: $1000
Cost of replacing the HDD: $100


RE: as a tech
By maverick85wd on 6/19/2011 12:36:31 AM , Rating: 2
you actually gave them your computer without taking out the hard drive first?!


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