Pfizer, the drug company that improved humankind's lot by inventing Viagra, this month succeeded in preventing a porn web site from using the address www.viagrafalls.com. Jon and Cherie Messner, the operators of the porn site, have agreed to stop using the name, which is just one of more than 100 different Internet addresses they use to redirect web users to their site.
This is somewhat ironic, given the complementary nature of the products.
Of course, Pfizer does have a right to prevent others from benefiting from the name of a product it has spent a lot of money developing and marketing. But it is also possible that the battle is just starting for Pfizer - and for many other companies with trademarks and brands, as well.
Rather than celebrating a victory, Pfizer and its lawyers should now turn their attention to the Turkish porn site King Sex, which is using the name viagrasex.com to attract visitors.
And then there are the hundreds of sites that offer to sell Viagra on the Internet, such as ConfiMed (www.viagraguys.com). Viagra is of course a prescription drug, but ConfiMed helpfully gets around such inconveniences by offering an 'online consultation.' The web site www.-express- viagra.com offers a very similar service, as does viagra-uk.com, and viagra4you.net, and viagra.nu and ... anyway, you get the idea.
Pfizer will have to spend a great deal of money if it really does want to protect its trademark on the Internet. Names are how people find you, and how they know they are getting your quality product and not some cheap imitation.
But Internet address names can be used against you in other ways as well.
Perhaps Pfizer is already going after Jim Nichol, who runs a company called Domains For Sale, which has registered Viagrasucks.com. The name is not active - typing it into your browser will not take you to an anti-Viagra web site. But its owner, it seems, does expect one day to be able to sell it to someone who will use it.
Internet domain naming is far from a clear-cut field. It is worth thinking carefully about the possible PR effects before sending in the legal shock troops. Colgate-Palmolive made an embarrassing retraction back in October after demanding that the owners of www.ajax.org surrender the name. Benjamin Kite, the owner of ajax.org, is convinced that an Internet campaign he organized, casting the corporation in the role of bully, won the day for him and the site, which he says was created not 'for commercial purposes, but rather for the free exchange of information, ideas, and cool pictures of Bill Gates dressed up like Hitler'.
Perhaps what Colgate-Palmolive saw looming was the kind of embarrassment suffered by the Prema Toy Company - makers of the rubber toy Pokey - when it sent in the lawyers to recover the Pokey.org address. It was owned by 12 year old Chris van Allen, whose nickname happens to be Pokey and was given the domain by his parents as a birthday present.