Corrections or additions?
This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the
February 28, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Net Searchers: Policing Cyberspace
When Roy Hibberd was a student at St. Benedict’s Prep
in Newark in the 1970s, promising youngsters were steered toward
while those considered a little less likely to succeed ended up in
business courses. Hibberd, now managing director of Net Searchers,
a division of London-based Virtual Internet LLC, took lots of science.
He finds it ironic that he doesn’t use that knowledge much, but would
be grateful for a little more skill at the keyboard as he uses E-mail
to network and keep in touch with friends and colleagues. "I’m
waiting for the day they perfect voice recognition," he says.
For a kid whose high school considered business to be a lower tier
Hibberd has an unusually strong zest for the pursuit. "I like
the challenge and excitement of growing a business," he says.
"It’s what I love to do."
Hibberd joined Net Searchers in July to give the five-year-old
which registers domain names and monitors Internet activity for
a North American presence. He opened the office that will become Net
Searchers’ North American headquarters last month in Carnegie Center.
The office now has eight employees and, Hibberd says, will be up to
10 by the end of the month. Still looking for talent in the Princeton
area, Hibberd is also recruiting in Los Angeles to staff an office
that will open there at the end of April. Other North American offices
most likely will follow, Hibberd says, with Chicago and Toronto
to open after Los Angeles.
Pioneering in an infant industry, Net Searchers sells a complete
brand protection service. Hibberd, an attorney with a specialty in
intellectual property law, explains that registering a cybername is
not as simple as plunking down the $35 or $50 it takes to stake a
claim to a URL. "Think of Canal Street," he suggests,
up a picture of the lower Manhattan open air bazaar where
bags and "Polo" shirts, nearly all of them knock-offs, are
hawked on every corner. If policing brands is difficult here on terra
firma, imagine how much more complex is it in the Wild West that is
For starters, Hibberd says, there are 200 countries — each with
its own set of regulations — in which it is possible to register
a domain name. And registration is far from perpetual. In most cases,
it expires after a year if not renewed. "My parents still have
the same seven-digit phone number I grew up with," Hibberd says,
comparing the longevity of phone numbers to that of URLs. To further
complicate the issue of cybernames, most companies want to register
not only their names, but also their products and trademarks,
50 or 100 or more items for a large multi-national corporation. Then
there are countless cyberstores — retail, wholesale, re-sale,
and auction — where goods are sold. Add chat rooms, Usenets, and
listservs where companies and their products are discussed, and
Canal Street looks very manageable indeed in comparison.
Net Searchers, in the business of brand protection, advises clients
on a global registration strategy based on their markets, their risk
tolerance, and their budgets. Through its parent, Virtual Internet,
the company also sells a renewal service, taking on the task of making
sure URLs don’t lapse. "It happened to JP Morgan last year,"
Hibberd says. Renewal isn’t automatic, and it isn’t all that hard
for a company to forget to get in the paperwork, he says.
Beyond registering and renewing domain names, Net Searchers sells
Internet surveillance. It combs the ‘Net to find out where a client’s
products are being sold, and what is being said about the company
— or person. "Many of our clients are celebrities, names you
would recognize," Hibberd says. Other clients are manufacturers
of luxury goods that want to know if their perfumes or $500 scarves
are being sold in cyberstores that violate their merchant agreements,
perhaps by being showcased next to dime store merchandise, or marked
with a cut-rate price.
"We are sort of a virtual mystery shopper," Hibberd says.
But with a difference. While this type of research has been carried
on for decades by visiting stores incognito or scanning gossip
the Internet adds new twists. "There are over 100,000 `Sucks’
sites," for example, Hibberd says. Often put up by an employee
or customer with an axe to grind, these sites take the name of a
and add a `Sucks’ suffix. Using hidden code, owners of the `Sucks’
sites can divert surfers trying to reach, say, IBM.com, to
Hibberd grew up in North Jersey, and graduated from Rutgers in 1974
with a degree in history. "Rutgers," he says, "had one
of the first 20 domain names. I was really proud when I heard that,
that they had the foresight." After Rutgers, Hibberd attended
law school at Pepperdine, before opening a solo practice in
From there he moved into the corporate world. Most recently, he was
vice president of an American Express financial services division.
Net Searchers’ operation in North America exists largely to service
existing accounts and to acquire new business. Registration, renewal
services, and Internet monitoring take place in London, where the
company has a staff with a combined fluency in 15 languages, Hibberd
says. Virtual Internet, Net Searchers’ parent, also has a Web hosting
business, but, he says, does not intend to expand it to the United
Princeton was chosen as the company’s North American headquarters,
Hibberd says, because so many "brand owners" —
with product names to protect — call New York, Connecticut, and
Washington, D.C., home. Princeton, he says, is well-positioned to
A new area of business for Net Searchers is a partnership with
Called RegistryPro, the joint venture has been awarded the right to
conduct registration for one of seven new URL suffixes. It is .pro,
and will join .com, .net, and .org, probably by early summer, Hibberd
says. RegistryPro is targeting the medical, accounting, and legal
The world of business, pushed into fast forward mode by the Internet,
has changed significantly since Hibberd was immersed in science
at St. Benedict’s Prep. He is loath to predict just where the Internet
Age will take us. Will companies such as his form a new industry?
Will devising Internet domain name registration and protection
be as big in a decade as marketing and accounting are now?
"In reality, domain names are not more than five or seven years
old," Hibberd says. "The Internet is here to stay, but none
of us can predict where it goes in the next 5 to 15 years."
— Kathleen McGinn Spring
Center, Suite 105, Princeton 08540. Roy Hibberd, managing director.
609-275-0467; fax, 609-275-1439. Home page:
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