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

science

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

profession,

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

company,

which registers domain names and monitors Internet activity for

clients,

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

candidates

to open after Los Angeles.

Pioneering in an infant industry, Net Searchers sells a complete

Internet

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,

conjuring

up a picture of the lower Manhattan open air bazaar where

"Coach"

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

the Internet.

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,

potentially

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

columns,

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

company

and add a `Sucks’ suffix. Using hidden code, owners of the `Sucks’

sites can divert surfers trying to reach, say, IBM.com, to

IBMSucks.com.

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

California.

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

States.

Princeton was chosen as the company’s North American headquarters,

Hibberd says, because so many "brand owners" —

corporations

with product names to protect — call New York, Connecticut, and

Washington, D.C., home. Princeton, he says, is well-positioned to

serve

these areas.

A new area of business for Net Searchers is a partnership with

Register.com.

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

professions initially.

The world of business, pushed into fast forward mode by the Internet,

has changed significantly since Hibberd was immersed in science

classes

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

strategies

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

Net Searchers/Virtual Internet U.S., 502 Carnegie

Center, Suite 105, Princeton 08540. Roy Hibberd, managing director.

609-275-0467; fax, 609-275-1439. Home page:

www.netsearchers.com.


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