Legal bigwigs give Flywheel a spin

Three legal heavyweights, including former Netscape general counsel Roberta Katz, unveil a new company that will let people transfer secure documents over the Web.

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Three legal heavyweights unveiled a new company Thursday that will let people transfer secure documents over the Web and help companies track their businesses.

Former Netscape Communications general counsel Roberta Katz, former Securities and Exchange Commissioner Joseph Grundfest, and legal executive James Jones hatched San Francisco-based Flywheel Communications to create an Internet-based service to help companies manage their businesses over the Web.

Randy Lewis, chief strategy officer for Flywheel, said the company will cater to professionals including lawyers, accountants and investment bankers to help them manage entitlements and obligations, such as licensing agreements, standard commercial contracts, mergers and employment contracts, in a secure environment.

The announcement comes as start-ups are having a difficult time attracting not only a Web audience but also venture capital.

Privately held Flywheel, however, has made strides in capturing investors, including Goldman Sachs, VantagePoint Venture Partners, Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen and others. The company has also partnered with companies such as Loudcloud, VeriSign, Hildebrandt International, RSA Security and Securify.

Flywheel is betting that businesses will use its services to initiate, communicate and enforce their own or their clients' rights in a secure environment. An equipment leasing company, for example, will be able to monitor, manage and track all of its contracts over the Web under Flywheel's secure system.

"Currently, the management of rights occurs through unprotected e-mail, messenger services, and countless other unstructured and inefficient processes," Katz, Flywheel's chief executive, said in a statement. "Our customers' success with Flywheel will allow them to redirect their effort to the substance of managing rights as opposed to the time and expense wasted in process."

At Netscape, Katz helped fight the Communications Decency Act, pushed for revamped encryption export controls, and dealt with copyright issues. About two years ago, she resigned from her job at Netscape to head the Technology Network and then moved on to form Flywheel last summer.

Grundfest is a professor at Stanford Law School. Before becoming a Securities and Exchange Commission commissioner in 1985, he was counsel and senior economist for the Council of Economic Advisers at the Office of the President and a lawyer at a Washington, D.C.-based law firm.

The service will launch in the second quarter of 2001, Flywheel said.