COMPANY SLEUTH SPIES ON MARKETERS: WEB SITE OFFERS INSIGHTS INTO POSSIBLE FUTURE TRENDS

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A new Web site is shining a flashlight into the dark nooks and crannies of the Internet. Using sophisticated technology, Company Sleuth follows cybertrails to unearth little-known facts about businesses.

Coca-Cola Co., for instance, recently trademarked the name "Javalait." And Gillette Co. patented a dental floss dispenser. The marketers haven't announced the news; Company Sleuth uncovered it-more than three months ago.

Now, Company Sleuth is ready to share its spy work. Infonautics Corp. today launches the Web site (www.companysleuth.com), which will track up to 10 companies for each registered user.

Consumers and competitors will receive daily e-mail reports with information such as patents, trademarks and domain names registered, message board and news group postings, job listings and Securities & Exchange Commission filings.

The information gathered by Company Sleuth is already public and available through various Web resources. But Joshua Kopelman, exec VP of Infonautics, estimated it would take 45 minutes of research time per company per day to compile the information.

EARLY CLUES

"We're giving people clues about what direction a company is going. We think people would rather have a few clues than be clueless," Mr. Kopelman said.

The Web site, which cost Infonautics less than $250,000 in new expenses to develop, is free for consumers. Although no ads will appear on the site while it builds a customer base, the company eventually will offer six to 10 charter advertiser packages, Mr. Kopelman said. Ad rates are undetermined; Infonautics may consider offering six-month, flat-rate initial packages.

Jim Nail, analyst at Forrester Research, is enthusiastic about the site, but cautions not every trademark registered will translate into a new product.

"But for competitive purposes, I'd be all over that level of intelligence," he said. "That kind of tip about where the company may be going early on is really invaluable."

Mr. Kopelman admits reporters and analysts so far have been the most ebullient about Company Sleuth, but said he envisions a consumer audience, too. Day traders and even less active traders are interested in details that could affect stock prices, he said.

"I remember when people would use Excite to list their portfolios because they posted news releases 10 minutes ahead of Yahoo," he said.

The average Sherlock Holmes can benefit in other ways. Company Sleuth will pay $500 for scoops that are published on its site.

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