Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, CT) August 25, 2006
Robert Glaser of Westport has been a part of a quiet boom in real estate since 2003, amassing more than 200 properties since he founded his company Hot Web Holdings Ltd. But you can't drive to Glaser's properties; they're all on the Internet. He used to own a retail store; he didn't say what it was, but he sold that several years ago and now he runs his company from home.
Glaser is an online real estate speculator and developer. He searches for and registers, or buys, domain names of Web sites he thinks are valuable or will become valuable.
As an example, he recently acquired Exit18.com, for an undisclosed price. He has developed it into a local search portal for the Town of Westport that people can use to find businesses and services in town. Westport is exit 18 off Interstate 95.
Glaser said Exit18 is the type of property he likes. It means something to people, but it's not associated with a particular company.
TheHotMall.com is another of his properties. Glaser said it's a virtual mall with more than 800 stores. He rents space just like a bricks and mortar operation, he said.
Glaser's business isn't very different from a traditional developer. He buys property to either immediately develop it, or to sit on it with the intention of developing it later or selling it to someone who wants it.
Buying a domain name is relatively simple, Glaser said.
You log onto the Web site of a domain name registrar, type in the name you would like to get and see if it's taken. There are several registrars, but Glaser said he usually uses GoDaddy.com, which charges less than $9 a year to register a name.
People don't actually buy names, they register them and pay a yearly fee.
Christine Jones, general counsel for GoDaddy, said the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers accredits her company and others like it. ICANN is a nonprofit corporation, which has a contract with the U.S. Department of Commerce to set guidelines for Internet addresses.
But Jones said ICANN does not keep track of the names. Instead, registry companies, which by law are not allowed to deal directly with the public, do that. GoDaddy and other registrars have to check with these registry companies to see if a domain name is available.
While it seems pretty simple, because Internet real estate involves names and not land, a number of problems have arisen particularly over trademarked names and those of individuals.
"Trademark infringement, that's where it gets muddy," Glaser said.
Microsoft Corp. announced Tuesday it had filed three federal lawsuits against companies and individuals for violating trademark rules through "cybersquatting" and "typosquatting" activities.
A cybersquatter generally registers the domain name of a company he or she doesn't own or that of a famous individual in hopes of getting those companies or people to buy them back. Typosquatting is taking the name of a usually popular company, individual or product and changing a letter in order to attract traffic to that site.
The owners of sites like "microsoftrebate.com" get paid by advertisers every time someone clicks on their site or on links on the site, but Microsoft is claiming the only reason people are visiting that site is because they think it is an official Microsoft site.
Jones said there are trademark rules to protect Microsoft and other companies and GoDaddy believes companies and individuals should have to buy those domains and are not entitled to them.
ICANN has set up arbitration rules so individuals and companies can settle disputes over domain names without going to court, but Microsoft pointed out there are 217 "microsoft" names registered by one company.
Glaser and Jones said the Microsoft suit and others like it is a big issue because it deals with the future of speculation in cyber real estate. But neither condoned some of the actions taken by the companies and individuals using the Microsoft name.
Ultimately, Glaser said speculation in property on the Web will continue just as it continues in other markets, including the stock markets and physical real estate markets.
Rob Varnon covers business. ROB VARNON
(c) 2006 The Connecticut Post. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup, Inc. by NewsBank, Inc.