Gathering Competitive Intelligence Free on the 'Net
by Carole Levitt
(County Bar Update, March 2001, Vol. 21, No. 3)

 

Gathering Competitive Intelligence Free
on the 'Net

By Carole Levitt, J.D., M.L.S., Law Practice Management Section Executive Committee. Levitt, president of Internet For Lawyers (IFL), is an Internet legal research trainer and Internet marketing consultant (Web address: http://www.netforlawyers.com). She can be reached at clevitt@netforlawyers.com. The opinions expressed are her own.

Say you're working on a big case, and you need as much information on the opposing company as possible.

Or perhaps you're pitching a potential client and want to know everything about their business for your presentation.

Maybe your client's competition is developing a new product, or you want to read all the news stories about some development that will affect your business or your clients'.

Do you know how to get that information quickly? And for free?

There was a time not so long ago when a law firm would have to use an "information specialist" to dig up the most sensitive competitive business information.

But today, with so much business, legal and news information available on the Internet, getting this kind of "business intelligence" is infinitely easier. If you know where to look, you too can be a corporate 007.

To locate company background and financial information via the Internet, follow these steps.

Review the company's Web site. Company sites may provide information about the company's background, its corporate structure and its executives, and may also provide links to its press releases, stock quotes and SEC filings.

Search company directories. CorporateInformation.com is a useful site for information about public companies and the more elusive private companies, with 20,000 company profiles on its site and a search engine that links to 300,000 public and private company profiles.

If public, review SEC filings. While the SEC's EDGAR site at http://www.sec.gov/edaux/searches.htm provides free access to all public companies' filings, I use 10KWizard at http://www.tenkwizard.com/ because it offers "real time" access while the government site is on a one-day delay basis. Also, its search engine is more robust than the government's EDGAR site. Search by ticker symbol, company name, SIC code, form type or search full-text with keywords and phrases.

Review state corporate records and county fictitious business name records (FBN). In California, corporate, limited partnership and limited liability company records appeared on the Web in December 1999 at http://204.147.113.12/list.html. They are updated weekly, are searchable by partial names and include the agent for service of process. In Los Angeles County, the FBN search is free via the Web, but you can only discover if the FBN is being used and its file number (no ownership information is provided here). See http://regrec.co.la.ca.us/fbn/FBN.cfm.

Review any federal or state agency's records concerning publicly regulated companies. Many government agencies provide information about companies that they regulate, including any legal action taken against them. For example, if you are researching a merger in the telecommunications industry, check the Federal Communications Commission web site at http://www.fcc.gov to find all of the merger-related documents.

Locate opinions, briefs, complaints and settlements concerning the company. Besides searching commercial databases for lawsuit information about a company, see the Delaware Corporate Clearinghouse at http://corporate-la.widener.edu/case.htm which posts selected opinions, briefs, complaints, settlements, motions and other documents relating to business law matters filed in the Delaware Court of Chancery (but only as far back as March 1999).

Now that you've read this article, you're armed with some of the many tools of a good corporate intelligence researcher, and it didn't cost you a cent!

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