A law firm representing Yahoo sent a letter to the creators of Yahooka--which calls itself the "guide to marijuana on the Internet"--late last week, threatening legal action if the site is not deactivated and the domains "yahooka.com" and "yahooka.net" are not turned over to Yahoo. The letter gives a deadline of January 13 for "written assurances" of compliance.
"Your use of Yahooka and 'yahooka.com,' a close variation of our client's Yahoo mark and 'yahoo.com' domain name, is likely to cause the public to mistakenly believe that this site is connected with, sponsored by, or approved in some way by Yahoo, therefore constituting actionable dilution under state and federal law," the letter from Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett, and Dunner attorney Christie Baty Heinze states.
Heinze confirmed that the letter posted to Yahooka is the one she sent the site, but declined further comment. A Yahoo spokeswoman said the company "doesn't comment on pending legal matters."
"Yahooka is a directory of marijuana-related information and sites. We feel that we have been targeted unfairly by Yahoo," a representative of the site wrote in an email message to CNET News.com. "They themselves list in their directory Yahoo parody Web sites, and there are other Internic-registered domain names which contain the word 'yahoo.' They also have a marijuana category in their directory list, which includes a link to Yahooka."
The Yahooka representative declined further comment.
Legal fights over domains are not a new phenomenon on the Net, but as the medium matures and the United States continues the process of turning over the system to a global nonprofit corporation, these battles stand to become more complicated.
Yahoo's letter notes: "Several courts have recently held that the registration of another's well-known trademark as an Internet domain name violates the trademark owner's rights," citing Panavision International, L.P. vs. Toeppen and Intermatic Inc. vs. Toeppen as examples.
In the Panavision case and others, judges have held that the domain name system's policy of awarding domain names on a "first-come, first-served" basis does not apply when the domain name in question dilutes another company's trademark.
Yahoo has been on the other side of trademark issues. The portal settled a trademark dispute in 1997 with the Ya-Hoo cake company, which had asked a Texas federal judge to make Yahoo change the style of its logo and stop using its name on the Net.
Last month, Microsoft entered the domain battle zone when it sued two Texas men who had registered the domain names "microsoftwindows.com" and "microsoftoffice.com."
In other domain wrangling, retailer Buy.com appears to be going after some of its high-profile competitors by registering the domains: "10percentoffamazon.com," "10percentoffreel.com," and "10percentoffegghead.com."
The sites are not active, but Buy.com president and chief executive Scott Blum told the Los Angeles Times that using the sites is "in our marketing plan."
"We will use those domain names at some time," he told the Times.
As for the retailers whose names have been targeted by competitor Buy.com, the sites seemed fairly unconcerned.
Julie Wainwright, chief executive of Reel.com, dismissed the "10percentoffreel.com" domain as "inaccurate advertising," noting that the firm guarantees the lowest price online for any VHS, laserdisc, or DVD title.
"It's impossible for them to undersell us," she said.
Wainwright said she wasn't sure if Reel.com would take legal action if a site was posted.
"If [the site] leads to customer confusion, then we'll have to take legal action," she said.
John Hough, a spokesman for Egghead.com, said he had not heard about the "10percentoffegghead.com" domain before being contacted by CNET News.com.
Amazon.com declined to comment.