Electronics giant annexes use of the former insult 'geek'


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By Guy Adamsin Los Angeles

The American retailer Best Buy, renowned both for selling cheap electronics and providing patchy customer service, is claiming legal ownership of the term "geek".

Lawyers for the firm, which owns 950 stores in the US, have pursued at least a dozen individuals and firms which have intruded on what it believes are its exclusive rights to refer to its employees in this way.

The policy illustrates the zeal with which US corporations occasionally seek to assert their rights to trademark a well-worn word or phrase. And it showcases the extent to which the word "geek" has, in the Mark Zuckerberg era, come to symbolise steely competence, visionary talent and commercial success. Best Buy's founder, Robert Stephens, was unapologetic yesterday, telling the Wall Street Journal that companies which don't aggressively defend trademarks against minor intrusions risk losing more substantive disputes, if courts later decide they abandoned them.

He added that he has charitably allowed several school chess clubs to call themselves "geek squads".

The word is now a hugely valuable commodity, he noted: "Geeks are like modern-day monks, but instead of poring over manuscripts, we are reading computer manuals."

Best Buy's victims have ranged from rival firms offering services such as "Speak to a Geek", to a priest who wrote "God Squad" on his car. Best Buy said the slogan was in a similar font to its "Geek Squad" logo.