“Podcast” is ours. A bonehead move by Apple?

Lots of buzz (started by this Wired blog post) about Apple sending a cease-n-desist letter to Podcast Ready since they’re allegedly infringing upon the iPod trademark.

Here’s why that’s a bonehead move by Apple…

Everything “pod” or “podder” or “podcast” does one thing: it screams Apple and their device. It does not, in my view, dilute the trademark in the same way that people using the term “Kleenex” did (which had arguably become such common vernacular for facial tissue, though a trademarked brand, that it caused a trademark protection scramble for Kimberly Clark so they didn’t “lose” the brand).

I submit that all of this “pod” momentum is an unbelievably good thing for Apple and it’s a bad move to stomp it down. It keeps competition at bay since anyone else positioning their product to tap into this momentum screams “me too” and causes customers to want “the real thing.”

As a podcaster, I’ve been aware that — for the last two versions of iTunes — Apple has made it increasingly challenging for users to browse for podcasts. If you know the title or keyword you can search on it or you can click “browse” and attempt to scroll down to podcasts until the word “podcast” appears to then see the directory. I know where my own podcast is and it’s quite hard for ME to find it!  The kicker is that free podcast content accelerates sales of iPod’s since it makes the device just that much more useful. Apple doesn’t make money off of podcasts via the iTunes Store but they could be more of a catalyst to continue to drive momentum with podcasting and continue to focus energy and momentum on the iPod and iTunes. Apple instead is making it more difficult and has somewhat deflated the enthusiasm in the podcast community.

My guess is that part of this cease-n-desist crackdown is intended to ensure that the lion’s share of the focus on “anything pod” stays with Apple. My post yesterday about rich internet applications may be a strategic consideration for Apple since knocking off iTunes probably won’t be all that difficult. Maybe this is all about heading this possibility off and ensuring that the killer process (iTunes-to-desktop-to-MusicStore-to-device which is what I term “Apple’s magic sauce”) isn’t all that defensible unless Apple has a process-patent pending on it. If that’s the case (and I suspect it is) then carefully and strategically making moves like this make some sense.

Still, any moves made to make anything “pod” more generic (and top podcaster Leo Laporte has suggested “netcast” for podcasts and Robert Scoble has done the same but suggested different names) will open up the market for competitive approaches and devices. This begs the question: Where are your statements or guidelines directing the ecosystem on what to do and what not to do? I predict they’ll never come since doing so would signal the marketplace on where the entry points are and it’s better corporate and market defense to leave it uncertain.

Unfortunately Mr. Jobs, these moves are signaling the marketplace. You’re telling the iPod ecosystem and marketplace to make audio, video and other media generic instead of iPod-centric. THAT is the essence of why this is a bonehead move. Without a doubt Microsoft, Creative, WalMart and others would like to say an enthusiastic and resounding, “Thank you!” for accelerating it.

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  1. Webomatica on September 23, 2006 at 11:07 am

    Podcast = Apple?

    Gee, I dunno about this. Supposedly Apple sent a complaint to the site Podcast Ready saying they infringe on Apples trademarks and confuse customers.
    The word podcast has been bandied around so much on blogs and in the general publ…

  2. Squish on September 23, 2006 at 10:36 am

    How should Apple make your podcast easier to find? They have categories, search, etc. You URL appears on your page in iTunes & in iTunes itself, under the info icon in the descriptions column. You are not a worldwide brand…so people don’t know who you are. Which would make it near impossible to find you without a vehicle such as iTunes.

  3. PXLated on September 23, 2006 at 11:29 am

    Agree 100%, totally boneheaded!!!
    Do you think this is a Jobs move or simply a rogue, misguided move on the part of the Apple legal department?

  4. Steve Borsch on September 23, 2006 at 2:03 pm


    Who says I’m not a worldwide brand? 😉

    You’re right…it’s not Apple’s thing to promote podcasts. That said, it *is* a fairly trivial matter to have a callout on the podcast area on the Music Store to make it easier to find podcasts.

    There is no other company that does user interface better or holds a deeper understanding of human factors than Apple.

    The kicker is that — as I’ve watched my feed in Feedburner — iTunes access to my podcast has continued to downtrend (used to 85% or more and is now down to 60%) with all the other directories (like Yahoo’s) picking up AFTER Apple began making it more difficult to find podcasts (including my non-worldwide branded show!). This just further illustrates my point that they’re raising obstacles to their own continued market dominance.

    PXLated…having once worked for Apple, I can assure you that NOTHING of this magnitude moves past Steve Jobs without his thumbs up or thumbs down.

  5. Rob Hyndman on September 23, 2006 at 5:00 pm

    Completely agreed, Steve. And good catch on the point about making podcasts harder to find. Too many clicks.

    I wonder whether Apple isn’t seeing greener fields in the iPod ancillaries now, perhaps because it thinks growth is flattening. Is this a precursor to Apple trying to monetize all of these other areas?

  6. Steve Borsch on September 23, 2006 at 7:05 pm

    Rob — Most likely they do want to gather as many sales as possible…but also I’d bet they want to have iTunes be the center of the universe. Therefore, any dilution in the form of other directories, sites, and so forth would be dilutive.

    Of course, a healthy ecosystem does more for the momentum of a company (just look at Microsoft’s >600k “partners”) than trying to do it all by yourself — Steve

  7. Aaron Hall on September 23, 2006 at 10:48 pm

    The term “Podcast” has become a catch-all term for downloading syndicated MP3 files into your portable MP3 player, as Xerox is to copying, Coke is to soda. Look up “genericide” on your favorite search engine and read why it’s harmful to corporate brands, and see why Apple is doing its best to avoid it.

  8. Court Kizer on September 23, 2006 at 10:55 pm

    I don’t think it’s that bad of a strategy. I mean a podcast really isn’t a podcast if you play it on another mp3 player. Apple’s not going to keep people from having Podcast sites or anything of the sort.

    It’s just that a “Podcast” is not the same on another mp3 player. For starters Podcasts are different in that they offer chapters inside of the mp4 file, both with video and audio, and they also offer PDF inside of the atoms (apples version of mp3 metadata) to go along with each screen, as well as artwork for each section or chapter and video that can be played when it hits a certain point.

    I think it’s more of a protecting the idea that a “Podcast” is much, much more different than the version of a “Podcast” you download as straight mp3 and play on your Zune or play on any other mp3 player.

    Not only that Apple is planning to plug in more features to PodCasts with a new device that will make PodCasts have more features much like a Keynote Presentation (powerpoint ie)

    It’s not an issue of wanting to push people out of the name, but wanting consumers to understand that they aren’t getting the real whole deal if they use another product (which is true) because it’s just not the same on my other mp3 players.

    It’s a way to let consumers know Podcasts are special for the iPod. I think it’s perfectly acceptable for companies to have a Podcast & a Webcasts for other players. As podcasts offer more and more media rich features that other players aren’t supporting (and keep in mind podcast is OPEN FORMAT) anyone can embed other content, but the other mp3 players won’t play them back.

  9. Angmar on September 23, 2006 at 11:18 pm

    Apple probably sent a cease and desist to Podcast Ready for myPodder not for Podcast. Even iPodder had to change its name to Juice because of legal pressure from Apple.

  10. Alex on September 23, 2006 at 11:19 pm

    Apple sucks

  11. Jimmy on September 23, 2006 at 11:49 pm

    Wasn’t the game out before the device? http://www.gamespot.com/pc/driving/pod/index.html

    Why isn’t Ubisoft suing Apple?

  12. Richard on September 24, 2006 at 4:55 am

    The thing is, if you don’t enforce the usage a trademark, you will lose it. People saying ‘Kleenex’ is a lot different than setting up ‘kleenextissues.com’ and selling different tissue brands (a strong example, but you get the point).

    If Apple let other websites use the term ‘PodCast’ too much, then they will lose the trademark and other digital audio players will be allowed to use it.

    Then the term ‘PodCast’ very much would not relate to Apple anymore.

  13. smqt on September 24, 2006 at 5:39 am

    Did Apple even coin the term “podcast”?
    I don’t think they have this trademark?

    Wikipedia says:
    The term “podcasting” was one of several terms for portable listening to audioblogs suggested by Ben Hammersley in The Guardian on February 12, 2004, referring to Lydon’s interview programs (“…all the ingredients are there for a new boom in amateur radio. But what to call it? Audioblogging? Podcasting? GuerillaMedia?”)[16].

    I think as described above myPodder contains yPod and is too much like iPod, hence the letter.

  14. Jimmy on September 24, 2006 at 6:06 am

    I am a little worried that we are losing the roots of Podcasting here, Podcasts were originaly audio blogs, designed to be played back on the humble home computer, it was the advent of technology that allowed it to be transfered to a portable player, this same technology also gave us RSS. In it’s purest form, the originator ‘the podcaster’ has never intended the audio to be limited to one device what ever that may be, nor did he/she envisage the ‘extras’ some devices could offer.

    I think we are all aware that the term podcasting was linked to the iPod purely because that was the biggest brand device avalible at the time, it could have been called ‘Sonycasting’!!!

    Perhaps mother nature might have something to say about the word ‘Apple’ hmmm.

    Jimmy. Podcast User Magazine

  15. Sebhelyesfarku on September 24, 2006 at 6:58 am

    What was boneheaded at the first place is calling mp3 shows podcasts. Don’t shove your head up to Apple’s greedy ass and be surprised later that you can’t breath…

  16. Bwana on September 24, 2006 at 7:33 am

    The term “pod” in podcast stands for “Portable On Demand”. Those are outraged already know this. It has nothing to do with the iPod. If this trend continues, I don’t think Apple will be happy with the response they get from community.

  17. Rafael Fischmann on September 24, 2006 at 9:04 am

    “Portable On Demand” was something made up from P.O.D., and yes, it has totally to do with the iPod, launched back in 2001. Nobody had ever used “pod” as something related to music. And yes, POD-CAST is iPod + Broadcast. Only the ones who don’t like relating the iPod to podcasting assume that POD means Portable On Demand. That sucks.

  18. Bwana on September 24, 2006 at 9:37 am

    Liking or disliking the iPod is irrelevant. Podcast stands for Portable on Demand Broadcast.

    The editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary declared “podcasting” the 2005 word of the year, defining the term as “a digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar program, made available on the Internet for downloading to a personal audio player”

  19. Javier on September 24, 2006 at 12:04 pm

    I think that combining the word “Podcast” with the word “ready” can cause enough confusion to upset Apple’s Legal Dept. in a way that the word “Podcast” alone does not. I don’t know what “Podcast Ready” is supposed to mean; I know what I think it means: a seal of approval.

    Who decides if something is “Podcast Ready”? Is it the same people that decide if something is “iPod Ready”? We all know who the latter are.

  20. Nit Picky on September 24, 2006 at 12:20 pm

    “POD” may be an acronym for Portable On Demand. “Pod” is not, as abbreviation acronyms are always uppercase. CD, DVD, and PC are examples of abbreviation acronyms, whereas laser is not. The difference is most people don’t know what laser stands for.

    PODcast vs. Podcast; which is it?

  21. Kingsley Idehen's Blog Data Space on September 24, 2006 at 2:06 pm

    Why iPodder & Podcasting were bad name picks!

    From the first time I came across “iPodder” and “Podcasting” I sensed that the champions of both initiatives got a little t

  22. Kingsley Idehen on September 24, 2006 at 2:10 pm

    I wrote about the rush-to-name problem re. Podcasting a while back at: http://www.openlinksw.com/blog/~kidehen/?id=901 .

    Audio, Video, or infact, Multimedia Casting is the technology in play here. None of this had anything to do with the iPod exclusively, but there is more to this nonsense as you will see when you read the “Podcast Wars” at: http://www.makeyougohmm.com/20050519/1883/

  23. TechCast Weekly - Computer Help and Computer knowledge on September 24, 2006 at 11:11 pm


    I wasnt going to comment on whats going on right now in the podcasting community, but the more I sit here and think about it, the more I feel like I might have something to say. Or at least something to type. You be the judge.
    For those…

  24. The r-evolving web on September 25, 2006 at 7:54 am

    Cease desist on the cease desist

    There are so many of these Cease Desist letter coming out over the protections of brands. Many senders of these letters such as Digg point out that they have to do this otherwise they are in danger of losing their right to their brand. Many of t…

  25. Ryan on September 25, 2006 at 9:08 pm

    Wired seemed to conclude that Apple was laying claim to ‘podcast,’ but now that the actual letter has come out, it’s clearly not the case. In fact, they say that they’d be fine with ‘podcast’ appearing in a trademark application. They were picking on other parts of Podcast Ready’s business, from the hardware links to the myPodder name, but these accusations of trying to own a word they never owned in the first place are too much.


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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.