Edge & Ellison team puts Webvet in practice

John Malpas reports on a new product that aims to protect companies from litigation surrounding Web site content.

EDGE & Ellison has become the latest firm to attempt to exploit the Internet market by launching a fixed-price internet auditing service.

Webvet, launched on 13 October by the firm's London office, offers a vetting service for companies that want to ensure that their Web sites do not break the law or lay them open to expensive litigation. The basic package costs £650 for sites of up to 30 pages.

Lawyers from the three-partner marketing services unit are offering to check Web sites for a variety of potential pitfalls – including copyright and trademark infringements.

Edge & Ellison says it was encouraged to launch Webvet after conducting a survey of company Web sites which indicated that many may be vulnerable to legal challenges.

Partner Robert Wegenek said: "We found that they frequently make use of outside images and materials which are subject to trade mark, copyright or licensing agreements. If these have not been checked properly, companies are risking litigation in the UK and abroad."

Partner Nick Mason acknowledged that until now there had been relatively little Internet-related litigation in the UK. But he added: "We think that over the next five years there will be a raft of litigation to sort out all the problems to do with trade mark and copyright infringement and e-commerce generally."

Mason said the courts in the UK had already set down ground rules for the use of domain names after several high-profile disputes. He predicted the focus of litigation would shift towards the use of "key words" on Web sites.

Key words are used to raise the profile of a Web site via Internet search engines. When a company enters its site onto a search engine, a list of words which broadly define the site's purpose and content are also entered to enable users to find the site more easily.

Although these key words are not visible on the sites themselves, search engines will direct people to the site providing the words have been entered as a search parameter.

Mason said some companies included the names of rivals on their key word list to encourage people looking for their rivals to visit their site. "There is a good chance this could amount to trade mark infringement," he said.

Edge & Ellison is not the first UK firm to launch a Web site auditing service. In September last year Sheffield firm Keeble Hawson Moorhouse's IP department started offering a similar service.

Jonathan Armstrong, the head of the IP department, said only around "two dozen clients" had used the service.

"We have found that most people do not want a full audit, as they have already identified what specific advice they need.

"However it has helped to identify us as experts in the field – in the same way that lorry drivers have tattoos."