Target of Best Buy suit defends his use of Geek Squad name

  • Article by: STEVE ALEXANDER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 13, 2013 - 5:37 AM

Nathaniel Parsons said he’s only serving people who can’t afford Best Buy’s technical help.

An Ohio man sued by Best Buy Co. Inc. for using its trademarked Geek Squad name as part of a business says he’s providing a service that doesn’t threaten the big electronics retailer and he’s being wrongly targeted.

Richfield-based Best Buy sued Nathaniel Parsons in Minneapolis federal court this week for alleged trademark infringement and cybersquatting for running the websites affordablegeeksquad.com and cheapgeeksquad.com. The big retailer is seeking a court order telling Parsons to stop using the names, plus $200,000 in damages.

U.S. law defines cybersquatting as registering or using a website name that is “confusingly similar to, or dilutive of, a trademark or personal name.”

In a telephone interview, Parsons, 41, of Sheffield Lake, Ohio, disagreed with the suit’s premise.

His two websites “may not be legal by the way the law is written, but I’m not confusing their customers. My website colors and layout are totally different from Geek Squad’s. If anyone asks if I’m the Geek Squad, I say no, I’m the Affordable Geek Squad. I never claimed to be the Geek Squad.”

Jeff Shelman, a Best Buy spokesman, said the company tried to work out a solution with Parsons but “found it necessary as a last resort to file suit.”

“We have made significant investments over many years building our key trademarks, and we must take a stand when people attempt to trade off of and denigrate our brands,” Shelman said.

Parsons said Best Buy asked that he stop using the domain name affordablegeeksquad.com and understood they wouldn’t take further action if he agreed. But he didn’t.

“Why do I have to give up my domain name if I’m not mimicking their business? It’s not like I have little vehicles running around,” Parsons said.

He also said that he registered the affordablegeeksquad.com website around 2009 and Best Buy didn’t complain until April of this year.

Jim Quinn, an intellectual property attorney at the Larkin Hoffman law firm in Bloomington, said that Best Buy appears to have a strong case. Having different colors or layout on a website is less important than the fact that a trademarked name is being used, Quinn said.

“Geek Squad is very well-known and is a strong trademark,” Quinn said. “When people see or hear it, they think of services by Best Buy.”

In the interview, Parsons said he deserves a break because he performs a social good with affordablegeek squad.com by helping people who can’t afford the real Geek Squad. He said he charges no fees and instead suggests a $35 donation. “It’s a community service,” Parsons said. “I offer services for free mostly.”

Parsons said he can’t afford to fight the lawsuit.

“They’ll never get $200,000 from me,” Parsons said. “I’ve got college debt, and my revenue from the two websites [at issue] over the last couple of years totaled maybe $1,500 to $2,000.”

 

Steve Alexander • 612-673-4553

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