Technology

Much Ado Over Podcasts


Yo, Apple (AAPL)! What's up with the pod fuss? Please call off your lawyers. Cracking down on folks for using the word podcast and other variants of the word pod will do you no good. It's so not cool.

Don't you see? The more people say pod-this, and pod-that, and the more they talk about podcasting, and any other pod-related products or services, the more they might be reminded of those bright, shiny music players that everyone has to have these days.

I can't believe what I've been reading in the last week or so. On Sept. 25, I see that your lawyers, at Townsend & Townsend & Crew in Palo Alto, Calif., sent a sharply worded letter to the people behind a startup called Podcast Ready, based in Houston. This little outfit had created a software program called MyPodder aimed at helping people manage their favorite podcasts. It had come preloaded on certain portable music players (yes, there are "other" players that aren't called iPod) that were stamped "podcast ready."

"Apple is concerned that certain uses of PODCAST READY and MYPODDER by your clients is likely to confuse consumers into mistakenly believing Apple is associated with your clients' products and services," the law firm wrote, encouraging the recipients to cease and desist, thank you very much. "Apple hopes that this matter can be resolved amicably and expeditiously."

ARROGANT ATTITUDE. The Townsends & Co. go on to note that you've filed applications for a trademark on the terms iPod and Pod. "In sum, Apple has expended a great deal of time and money to build up considerable worldwide recognition and goodwill in its IPOD and POD marks," the attorneys wrote.

But what I don't get is how you could pass up a chance to remind buyers of those "other" players that they had pointedly not bought an iPod, with all the catty and arrogant implications one can draw from that.

I mean, think about it. Everybody who knows anything about the Internet these days knows what a podcast is. We're even producing them ourselves here at BusinessWeek.com and some of ours can even be found within the confines of your own iTunes Music Store.

Heck, the word is so common these days that even uncool old guys like Tim Russert know what it means. Right there on Meet the Press there's Russert plugging the Meet the Press podcast, and when the show is over there's another plug including some cool D.C. youngster holding an iPod. What did you pay NBC for that little exposure of your product? And how much did you pay for it? Zilch. The folks over at the New Oxford American Dictionary even made podcast the word of the year in 2005.

PAYING THE PRICE. Next I hear that you went after the maker of a notebook computer bag that wanted to call its product TightPod. Then there's the Profit Pod, a name thought up by a maker of arcade gambling machines. Next, I suppose you'll go after Nestlé, which is the parent of Poland Spring, a popular brand of bottled water from Maine. They've lately taken to calling a rounded 11-ounce bottle of water that fits perfectly into a kid's lunchbox an "Aquapod." Would the use of the word "pod" have occurred to the marketing brains at Nestlé prior to the success of that little music box of yours? Who's next? Whales?

This is the price of branding success. Everybody wants a little of that iPod dust to rub off on them, I guess. I remember similar things happening with the iMac name back in 1998. That was when the iMac was still bondi blue, and once it was clear the thing was a hit, knockoffs were an irritant that kept your lawyers busy for a while. Remember the eOne from eMachines (yes, the company that's now part of Gateway (GTW) that looked a little too much like an iMac? Then there was the E-Power Computer from Future Power.

You had a point there. But this pod thing? This is something different. The iMac was a nice computer that changed a lot of ideas about what a computer could look like and all that. But, you have to see the bigger picture, man. This iPod thing has changed the world. I typed the word iPod into Google News (GOOG) and got more than 14,000 references. I bet there have been millions of articles written around the world that use the word iPod in some context or other, because everybody knows what it is, and gets what you mean.

It's like you went to this big chess tournament and described it as the "Super Bowl" of chess. Or how sometimes young people would be referred to as the "Pepsi Generation" because the brand was so connected to people who were young and totally into what's happening. (And didn't some former CEO of yours, I think his name was Sculley, have a hand in that before he came to work for you? Sugared water and all that?)

Someday people may look back on people who came of age in the first decade of the 21st century as the "iPod Generation" because so much of what they were into had to do with being digital, and storing it all on their iPods. Wouldn't that be cool? Yeah, it would. But it won't be if every time someone uses the word pod or podcast, or some variant thereof, they think they're going to get a mean letter from a lawyer. So lay off, man. Just relax, and let it happen. It's all good for you.


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