Who here is sick of Zoom?

It's not Zoom's fault, of course. Who can really blame Zoom for benefiting as a result of the pandemic? Its user numbers and revenue have grown quickly in the past year, as so many of us became instant remote workers, and Zoom calls replaced our face-to-face meetings.  

At the same time, we're suffering "Zoom fatigue," as a Stanford professor called it recently.

I've written about the nuts-and-bolts of his report elsewhere -- the real, physiological reasons why Zoom calls are apparently more taxing than in-person communication, along with his simple, practical strategies to make them less exhausting.

Yet I realized something else while reading the Stanford study -- something that could potentially lead to a big problem for a company like Zoom, if it hasn't already taken care of it. Regardless, it contains a big takeaway for your business. 

Here's the issue. Take a look at the following passages from the Stanford study (and the news release unveiling it), and see if you can spot the problem.

First, from the news release:

Prompted by the recent boom in videoconferencing, communication Professor Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL), examined the psychological consequences of spending hours per day on these platforms. Just as "Googling" is something akin to any web search, the term "Zooming" has become ubiquitous and a generic verb to replace videoconferencing.

Next, from the paper itself, published in the journal Technology, Mind, and Behavior:

[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. As the 13 words in the first passage attest, and the first part of the second passage backs up, Zoom is very quickly becoming a generic word for "videoconference." 

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.

It was protected in the United States, the European Union, Canada, Australia, and Japan, but that left other areas of the world unprotected, author Bridget Diakun wrote, adding that a "notorious filer" who apparently is unrelated to the company had registered the mark in the United Kingdom. 

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

And while a professional trademark search would be beyond the scope of this article, I did check the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's online directory. Sure enough, a basic search turned up 1,762 U.S. trademark applications incorporating the word zoom.

Most recent: "Zoom University," filed by a company called Lose Ya Cool LLC in Georgia last month. (Different field; I include it here just as an example.)

I reached out to Zoom for comment on all of this, but its media department did not respond. So I can't tell you for sure whether this is a problem that Zoom has robustly or sufficiently addressed already.

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.

That's why 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

It's important to note this isn't fatal to Zoom; as described above there are ways to combat trademark issues like this. Meanwhile, business is booming. 

I mean, think of your company, and tell me you wouldn't be happy if you had a product that was so successful that Stanford professors started doing research on how to cope with its overuse. It's what you might think of as a "good problem."

Still, of course there's a lesson; perhaps two.

First, intellectual property matters, and second, in the long run it's probably more economical to take care of your IP issues long before anyone else has reason to care about them.

Oh, and shut off the camera once in a while. It will make all your "Zoom" calls -- whether they're on Zoom or a competitor -- less exhausting.