Apple Sends in the Goons

23 Sep ’06

News has broken that Apple is C&Ding Podcast Ready, (quoting Leo here) “claiming that the terms “Podcast Ready” and “myPodder” infringe Apple’s trademarks, and that they cause confusion among consumers”. Other cases have also been reported, as have Apple’s applications for trademark registrations. What I’m not understanding about this issue is why Apple has waited so long to act; there are many other businesses that for years now have been using variants of “Pod” to market products and services similar to Apple’s. Why now?

I see two sources of confusion in the marketplace, and both of them have been created by Apple or benefit Apple. First, many people think they need an iPod to listen to podcasts. Obviously false, but equally obviously Apple’s success has been fuelled in part by the perception that the iPod is at the centre of everything podcast-y. Second, many businesses other than Apple market pod-products and services, and have done for a very long time (in pod-years). This has been terrific for Apple – an entire industry has sprung up around podcasting, helping it gain mainstream attention and consumer interest. But Apple has done very little in that time to protect its trademarks, allowing confusion about whether it would attempt to enforce ownership of pod-marks to flourish. This has been Apple’s call, and the market has taken its lead from lax enforcement by a company famously protective of its marks.

My sense is that we now therefore have a market of consumers who know better than to assume that anything podcast-y is an Apple product, and can quite easily tell the difference between things that come from Apple and things that don’t. So at the end of the day, it strikes me that there is likely lots of confusion that is not relevant to the marks, and very little confusion of the kind Apple needs to show to enforce them.

How should we look at Apple’s Rip Van Winkle approach to enforcing its pod-marks? My gut tells me that this a reaction to a flattening growth curve on its Pod-ucts (groan), something the techmedia and ‘sphere has been murmuring about for months. Is this the first sign of growing Apple concern that soon, its iPod market nearing saturation, it will have to start moving into related markets, or generating licensing revenue from others who do?

Updatge: Dwight Silverman has some interesting observations about timing. It’s all in the timing.

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