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Monday, 21 February, 2000, 17:21 GMT
The web detectives

By BBC News Online's Iain Rodger

A young British high-tech company has developed an ingenious way of protecting companies from illegal use of their trademarks and copyright material on the internet.

Counterfeit goods
Copyright infringement
Share price manipulation
Fake 'official' websites
Illegal links to pornography
Damaging comments on chat sites
While the international community tries to catch up with how the internet is rewriting the rules of commerce, I-B-Net says businesses have no option but to protect themselves.

As use of the web has grown, so too has the potential for cybercrime. For example, it has been estimated that 25% of branded goods sold online are counterfeit.

Copyright infringements are widespread - especially in the music business through growing use of the MP3 digital format - and there have been numerous cases of share prices being manipulated up or down through unregulated chat sites.

Mirror cracked

Websites known as mirror sites have appeared which seem to be the official sites of known companies but are in fact used by criminals to take money from unsuspecting customers before disappearing into the ether.

I-B-Net's website
Protection in cyberspace
Companies beginning to venture on to the web are also worried about how they can keep track of unsubstantiated damaging comments made on unpoliced websites about their products, or even having their brands used as a 'respectable' front for pornography.

I-B-Net claims its Homer technology has the answer to all these problems, and more.

Companies which subscribe to I-B-Net's service are provided with an information management system they can access via a standard web browser.

Spider's web

Using 'spidering' and 'agent' technology, the Homer system continuously monitors the internet for misuse of the company name or trademarks.

Essentially, the 'spider' gathers information from the net and the 'agent' analyses it according to the client's needs.

As soon as any infringement is discovered, the client is alerted by e-mail, mobile phone, fax or desktop ticker and provided with information to assist in any legal action which might be required.

The service costs from 60,000 a year, depending on the client's requirements.

I-B-Net business development director Paul Mewett says his company has a huge potential market and, so far, only one competitor: the US company Cyveillance.

He says Homer is far more effective at thoroughly scanning the internet than search engines such as Yahoo, AltaVista and Google.

Competitive intelligence

Chief executive Mark Ommanney says the system is also invaluable as a tool for companies to monitor what competitors are up to, and even for keeping tabs on their own websites.

The amount of information being put on the net is growing so fast that companies are finding it difficult to keep up with what is on every page of their own sites, sometimes resulting in embarrassing errors.

With the Homer system, says Mr Ommanney, they could set up a continuous search to identify anything out of date or pick up errors automatically.

So it seems the web will soon be policed by electronic spiders and agents, while the new business of 'competitive intelligence' looks set for huge growth on the back of the internet revolution.

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11 Feb 00 | UK
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