If you don't know what's in a domain name, just ask a company like Compaq, which reportedly paid $3.3 million for "altavista.com" for its popular search engine by the same name.
On Monday, a company that has been in the trademark and copyright research business for 75 years is launching a new site that it says might have saved Compaq a lot of money had the service been used when the AltaVista search engine was first named.
The service, Namestake, offered by Thomson & Thomson, allows users to search for identical and similar domain names along with federal trademarks.
The idea is for companies to use the service both to determine whether they are choosing unique domain names and to watchdog that name once they secure it. The initial search, which shows the number of similar names, is free. But to actually see the results with domain names, companies have to pay fees ranging from $25 to $175.
Searching for the same domain name, especially under the ".com," ".net," and ".org" top-level domains, is a simple and free process offered by the InterNIC. But finding similar names can be a matter of guesswork.
"No tools to tell [companies[ how many close similarities to their names might exist," said Tom Barrett, vice president of Thomson & Thomson. "What we're trying to solve is a problem companies face in promoting brand names on the Internet--to see how many names are out there."
While many companies clearly realize the power of a name on the Net, and are willing to pay dearly for that name, others simply launch a site and take as much care in choosing a URL as they do a phone number, Barrett added.
"They're not treating their brand as a trademark," he said. "They're treating it as an address. And that's what's missing in the equation."
Barrett said that Thomson has created a proprietary engine that searches 247 different registries.
The database will search for similar names and also look for misspellings and phonetic equivalents.