In the footsteps of Sir Stelios’s efforts to put brand use of ‘Easy’ off limits for all other businesses, Apple Computer is lashing out from its Cupertino California HQ at the recent slew of new brand names incorporating ‘Pod.’
Topic: "Pod"-the new "Easy"?
Who: Apple Computer, Inc
Where: Cupertino, California
When: August 2006
Apple Computer are possibly in the process of launching yet another legal action against companies that it feels are infringing on the intellectual property rights of its popular music player.
The Cupertino-based giant is laying a claim to the word "Pod" – warning other companies that use of the word as part of their product names risks infringing the "iPod" trade mark.
The present action is one of a long list of trade mark infringement claims involving Apple Computer. Back in 2005, there were questions as to whether rival MP3 brand Creative would stake a claim on the "Nano" trade mark (Creative actually released the "Zen Nano" MP3 player months before Apple released their "iPod Nano" version). Earlier this year, Apple Corporation, the music label run by the Beatles and their heirs, lost its claim against Apple Computer that it had breached a 1991 trade mark agreement forbidding Apple Computer from using the Apple logo for "music label" purposes.
It seems that Apple is targeting small businesses in this latest battle. The question has to be asked: has Apple gone too far this time?
In the last couple of weeks, Apple's lawyers have written "cease and desist" letters to at least two companies that use the word "Pod" in their product names. Apple has asked the companies to change the names immediately.
Profitpod will contest
The makers of ProfitPod, a handheld device used to record gaming activity on arcade machines, have indicated they will contest any claim by Apple. In fact they have just received trade mark recognition for their product name in the US.
Tightpod makes conditional offer
Another letter has been written to the makers of Tight Pods, a slip-on cover for MP3 players and laptops. They will only consider changing the name of the product if Apple is willing to pay the expenses of doing so. From the cease and desist letter, it does not appear that such an offer would be forthcoming.
Why this matters
The challenges by Apple reflect a current trend of companies attempting to prevent their best known product names slipping into common usage beyond their control. The risks of allowing this to happen can be catastrophic. On either side of the Atlantic, should a brand fall into large scale descriptive use, distinctiveness as a badge of origin from one particular source can be lost and with it the right to maintain a trade mark registration.
Another notable example of late has been Google, who have suffered from the use of the verb "to Google" in conjunction with other search engines and have issued an edict insisting that media outlets should not use the term "googling."
Whatever you feel about Apple's "big bully" antics here, it now appears that manufacturers (especially perhaps of technology products) will have to be extremely careful when naming their wares.