Genie Tyburski is the Research Librarian for Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the editor of The Virtual Chase Web Site: A Research Site for Legal Professionals.
Business & Technology section of A Business Researcher’s Interests
Sheila Webber’s Business Information Sources on the Internet
Find an Industry or Firm Online, by Doug Moesel at Lehigh University
The New York Public Library, How to Find U.S. Company Information
How to Learn about an Industry or a Specific Company, a Polson Enterprises Web Site
University of Washington, Internet Resources in Business
S UGGESTED READINGS
Bannen, Carol, “Internet Company Research: A Client Seminar” Law Library Resource Xchange (November 18, 1996)
Retkwa, Rosalyn, “Financial Pages” Internet World (February 1996)
Sternberg, Sam, “Business Research on the Internet” in The Business Guide
| M ost legal professionals seek information from time to time about prospective clients, competitors, and litigation opponents. To gather such intelligence, researchers typically depend on commercial online services and manual investigative techniques. In recent months, however, Internet resources have played an important role in corporate intelligence gathering.
Successful research strategy for discovering information about businesses on the Internet begins with determining whether the company has a home page. Businesses generally perceive home pages as a means to market themselves or to communicate with existing clients. They may provide annual reports, press releases, executive biographies, information about products, services, research ventures, business affiliations, and customers or clients. Without a doubt, such information presents a solid beginning from which to launch exhaustive research.
How does one ascertain the presence of a company home page? Several methods exist for locating U.S. businesses. For instance, check a directory that provides home page URLs. Such directories include Infospace, CompanyLink, and Yahoo. Or try finding the business’s domain name via Thomson & Thomson’s domain name finder or Internic’s Whois interface to its registration services. Then enter the domain name, preceded by http://www., in a Web browser’s open URL command line.
Some businesses offer home pages via services like Law Journal Extra. They may not register a domain name. Finding these sites typically proves more difficult and time consuming. It requires using popular search service sites like Excite or AltaVista, or browsing industry pages like Bio Online, when seeking a biotechnology company, or InsWeb, when looking for insurance companies.
Many businesses do not provide home pages; others offer content unworthy of the time spent to locate it. In such cases, or even when a business supplies meaningful information, researchers should examine other Web resources.
For example, if looking for information about a public company, check its electronic filings via EDGAR. Even if the business offers securities filings from its Web site, researchers may discover inconsistencies or incomplete information by checking the SEC database directly.
Note, however, that not all public companies file electronically (see hardship exemptions at 17 CFR §232.201 and §232.202). Furthermore, some filings are not available, or are only partially available, electronically. Others appear as several separate documents in the EDGAR database even though they comprise a single filing. Researchers wanting to check on the status of a public company or its filings should contact Disclosure, the SEC’s supplier.
Information about most companies appears in the newspapers. According to one comprehensive news media site — The Ultimate News Link Page — more than 4,200 news sites reside on the Web. The next step in the strategy for locating information about companies should include examining national, business, or regional news Web sites.
Consider the size, popularity and business of the organization in question. If articles about it are likely to appear in major news sources, traditional online services like Nexis, Dow Jones and Dialog may serve researchers better since one or two well-formulated queries may quickly retrieve most of the recent (since the mid-1980s) stories about the company.
On the other hand, conventional online services do not provide access to some regional news sources available on the Web. Further, some news sources like the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News offer more extensive coverage via a Web site.
To locate news sources within a specific geographic region, access The Ultimate News Link Page, New Century Geographic Links, or InfiNet Newsstand. To locate a business news journal, try American Cities Business Journals. For national news coverage, access CNN Interactive or Newspage.
Other strategies for locating information about businesses include finding their involvement in litigation, learning about their legislative and regulatory interests, and discovering public opinion about their products or services. Researchers seeking the most comprehensive and facile access available to information about a company’s past lawsuits should search commercial online services like Lexis or Westlaw. But those looking for inexpensive lesser alternatives might consider searching the federal circuit court database at Law Journal Extra!, or using search services like Meta-Index for U.S. Legal Research, or Villanova’s Federal Court Locator, or State Court Locator.
Researchers pursuing a business’s federal legislative or regulatory interests should connect to relevant agency home pages or to the government’s GPO Access site. Resources, like the EPA’s Envirofacts database or the SEC’s enforcement actions, offer information about a company’s dealings with a specific federal agency. GPO Access databases assist researchers in discovering a company’s involvement in pending legislation or in regulatory matters.
Those tracking public opinion about a business’s products or services should explore postings to relevant Usenets and other electronic discussion groups. Search database sites like Dejanews, AltaVista, Excite, Infoseek, Ultraseek, or HotBot assist with this task.
Researchers may also search the archives of many discussion groups separately. To locate relevant discussion groups, review sources like the Liszt Directory of E-Mail Discussion Groups, Tile.Net/Lists, or CataList, the catalog of LISTSERV® lists. To discover whether a particular group archives its messages, send an information request to the server. If the group is a listserv, for example, send the command “info” in the subject line to [email protected]. Leave the message body blank.
To summarize, the Internet, and in particular the Web, brings researchers valuable new sources for discovering information about businesses — the company home page, federal agency databases, news sources and more. It also provides access to securities filings, court databases, congressional documents and public opinion via electronic discussion groups. Because some of these materials are unavailable via traditional media, it’s difficult to ignore the Internet’s import to researchers gathering corporate intelligence.
Applying the Methodology
Company: Bio-Tek Instruments, Inc., Winooski, Vermont
Research time: 2.5 hours.
#1 Locate the company home page.
#2 Review information at the company Web site.
#3 News sources, government documents, and case law.
#4 Scan Web search services with MetaCrawler.