Don’t Ding Best Buy for “God Squad” order

Don’t Ding Best Buy for “God Squad” order

By now you may have heard the news reports about a Milwaukee priest who received the cease-and-desist order from Best Buy because his VW Beetle has a logo on it that says “God Squad” and looks an awful lot like Best Buy’s “Geek Squad” logo.

Most people I’ve seen have criticized Best Buy for being a big bully cracking down on a priest just trying to do his part in spreading the Word of God. But I’m not quite so ready to ding Best Buy completely. Now, I’m not necessarily a fan of the store. I don’t think much of their customer service or of their heavy-handed hard-sell of extended warranties. And I’ve heard horror stories of Geek Squad technicians rooting around in people’s private files while repairing computers.

However, in this case, Best Buy is only doing what a flawed trademark law requires it to do: protect its trademarks.

“This was a really difficult thing for us to do because we appreciate what Father Strand is trying to accomplish with his mission. But at the end of the day, it’s bad precedent to let some groups violate our trademark while pursuing others,” [Paula Baldwin, senior manager for public relations at Best Buy] said in an e-mail.

In fact, it’s not just bad precedent. They have to do it. I’m no lawyer, but it’s my understanding that if they don’t defend the trademark in all circumstances, then can lose the right to it. Just ask the owners of all these genericized trademarks about the need to defend.

Moreover, Best Buy is also apparently working with the priest to come up with a new logo that doesn’t infringe the Geek Squad trademark, while also accomplishing the goal of evangelization. I think that’s a pretty good solution. In this case, I don’t think Best Buy deserves the slings and arrows.

 

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
6 comments
  • Actually, since he’s not selling a product to compete against Best Buy it would be a parody and would hold up in court.  Countless “artistic” parodies have survived the big push from corporations, universities, sports teams, etc.

  • I think parody and satire have specific legal meanings and I don’t know if this would qualify. Regardless, he would have to be willing to spend money on fighting it in court and Best Buy already offered to help design something new.

  • Your blog post is what I thought at first, however Best Buy has *not* been consistently defending it’s trademark against Geek-squad knock-offs.

    There are many T-shirt companies out there making knock-offs (including one that has a “God Squad” t-shirt almost exactly the one on the Priest’s car):

    http://www.mundomusicalcristiano.com/mundo/index.php?cPath=424_426

    And that T-shirt company *IS* profiting by it.

    One differentiator here might be the fact that it is a VW bug which is quite different than a T-shirt that doesn’t look like the Geek squad standard uniform (white shirt, black slacks).

    So perhaps the priest crossed the line with the automobile.

    But still I think Best Buy is being rather inconsistent here.

  • We have no way of knowing whether Best Buy is inconsistent because we don’t know if they have sent cease-and-desist letters to the creators of those knock-offs. Part of the problem of trademark defense is being able to identify the creator of the knock-off, especially if they’re outside the US. On the Internet, anyone can almost sell anything anonymously.

    Unless Best Buy tells us what they have done in other cases, we just don’t know.

    In the big picture, I’m not particularly invested in defending Best Buy. I’m just reacting to a common problem in Internet punditry that we often leap to conclusions based on too few facts and not enough expert knowledge or inside knowledge on our parts. (And I’m as guilty of this as anyone, I freely admit.)

  • I agree with you, Dom.  As someone who has been in marketing – it is incumbent on them to defend their mark.  And it is a very close knock off. This isn’t quite like a t-shirt, Father Strand even admitted that people had confused him for the Geek Squad. Father is handling it well, and there is nothing wrong with being more distinctive.  I dig the collar on the car, but ditch the VW Bug for something else.  Maybe one of those new Camaros – no mistaking THAT for the Geek Squad.

  • Perhaps the Best Buy folks could help us with defending the trademark “Catholic”

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