Kleenex, Band-Aid, Aspirin, Zoom

A problem, but maybe one of those good problems. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

People of Earth, and readers of Understandably, we’re all Zoomers now —

Wait a second. I already started a newsletter like that recently. But in looking back at the study I wrote about Zoom earlier this month, I noticed something that could actually be a problem for Zoom.

Not like a “Zoom is going to shut down” kind of problem, but still.

Let’s cut to the chase. You might remember — or maybe you weren’t a subscriber yet — but a Stanford University professor, writing in the journal Technology, Mind, and Behavior, came up with four physiological reasons why Zoom calls are more physiologically taxing than in-person behavior.

I remember wondering at the time: Wait, is this about Zoom calls specifically? Or is this about any kind of video call: Skype, Google Meet, Cisco Webex, FaceTime—even Facebook Messenger Video )if anyone has ever actually used that)?

That led me to these two passages, first in the news release announcing the study:

Just as "Googling" is something akin to any web search, the term "Zooming" has become ubiquitous and a generic verb to replace videoconferencing.

And then from the paper itself:

[T]he ubiquity of the software has resulted in genericization, with many using the word 'Zoom' as a verb to replace videoconferencing, similar to 'Googling.' Hence, I feel warranted in writing about 'Zoom Fatigue' as the brand name is getting traction as the semantic label for the product category.

See the issue? It has to do with trademarks. According to Stanford, anyway, Zoom is very quickly becoming a generic word for "video call." 

The magazine World Trademark Review noted Zoom's potential trap last year. Back then, Zoom had 22 trademark registrations around the world, which was a smaller portfolio than professionals would expect a brand of Zoom's size and success to have.

For example, they had a registered trademark in the United States, and the European Union, Canada, Australia, and Japan, but it was apparently left open to attack in big markets like the United Kingdom. 

Moreover, there was a surge of domain names incorporating the word zoom.

I checked the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's online directory, just for the heck of it. Sure enough, a basic search turned up 1,762 U.S. trademark applications incorporating zoom. Most recent: "Zoom University," filed by an unrelated company in Georgia last month.

Zoom did not respond when I asked for comment on all of this, so I can't tell you for sure whether this is a problem that Zoom has robustly or sufficiently addressed.

But I can tell you that no company wants to risk its trademark becoming a generic word that anyone else can use. 

Exactly 100 years ago (1921), for example, in what's seen as a seminal U.S. case, Bayer lost the trademark to the term "aspirin" because it had become a generic word for the drug acetylsalicylic acid.

So, modern companies sometimes run campaigns to persuade people not to use their brands generically. Examples:

  • Johnson & Johnson's trying to stop the use of "Band-Aid" as a synonym for adhesive bandage

  • Google's campaign to discourage "Google" as a synonym for web search

  • Xerox's efforts to stop "Xerox" from being used as a synonym for photocopy

Then again, I suppose it’s kind of a good problem to have. I mean, if your company is so dominating runs the risk of its brand name becoming a generic word for the category you’re in, a lot of other things must be going right.

I’ll try to remember that perspective someday in the future, when “Understandably” becomes common shorthand for “amazing, indispensable media company that started with just a single newsletter.”

In the meantime? I guess we can all zoom on Zoom. Just remember to turn off the camera once in a while, for sanity’s sake.


7 other things worth your time

  • Kanye West is now apparently the wealthiest Black man in U.S. history, with a net worth of about $6.6 billion. After claiming he was $53 million in debt just three years ago, the bulk of his wealth now comes from “his successful apparel and trainer brand, Yeezy, and a new multi-year contract with clothing retailer Gap.” (Sky News)

  • Wary of repeating what happened with the late Justice Ginsburg (meaning the liberal justice declined to retire while President Obama was in office, and as a result, President Trump who was able to replace her after she died with a much more conservative judge), progressives are increasing pressure on Justice Stephen Breyer, 82, to retire so that President Biden can name a successor. So far, however, there’s no indication he will do so. (AP)

  • How to take your inbox from hundreds of emails to nearly empty in no time at all. (Inc.com)

  • The National Football League finalized an 11-year media rights deal worth more thn $100 billion. Amazon Prime Video picks up Thursday night games, and Disney gets two Super Bowls. ViacomCBS, Fox and Comcast (which owns NBC) keep their current deals. (CNBC)

  • Recognizing that if cars don’t run on gasoline, far fewer people will pay the gas taxes that fund road maintenance, two states, Oregon and Utah, are experimenting with taxing drivers by the mile driven, rather than on fuel. One state rep: “There’s no asphalt fairy out there that sprinkles asphalt in the night on our roadways.” (Washington Post)

  • Meet the NASA director for the Mars Rover who came to the U.S. with $300 in her pocket as a teen-ager, worked housecleaning jobs to pay her way through college, and said she took inspiration from wanting to prove to some of the men in her family in Colombia that “women add value. [I]t came from wanting to prove to them that we matter." (CBS News)

  • a Tesla on Autopilot slams into a parked Michigan State Police car. Nobody was hurt. I share this as a fan of Tesla who hopes they perfect autopilot, and someone who frankly longs for the day when we’ll have 100 percent self-driving cars, and I can just sit back and relax during our five-hour trips to Grandma’s in New Hampshire. (AutoNews)


Thanks for reading. Photo courtesy of Pixabay. I’ve written about this at Inc.com. If you’re not a subscriber, please sign up for the daily Understandably.com email newsletter—with thousands and thousands of 5-star ratings from happy readers.

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