Hiring Squad

On May 21, Laurel Touby e-mailed a plea to about 2000 journalists on her massive database. The problem? A competitor has challenged Touby's claim to the domain name of her Web site, hireminds.com, the only online job listing service devoted exclusively to the New York publishing industry.

Touby is a freelance journalist and minor legend, thanks to the cocktail parties she began hosting in 1994. Held at bars in downtown Manhattan, the parties attract throngs of journalists who come, as one put it, "either looking for a job or looking to get laid." In 1997, Touby parlayed her salon connections into a Web site, posting job listings for free.

Last July, after deciding to get serious about the business, she purchased the domain name hireminds.com. A few months later, she recalls, "I got a phone call from this fellow who says, 'I've bought up all the domain names around yours. I've applied for the trademark.' I felt like he was saying, 'You've got nothing.' " Her competitor, a headhunter for the Boston computer industry, owns the names hireminds.org and hireminds.net, and is now operating at hire-minds.com.

"The guy was determined to have my domain," recalls Touby, who says he never even named a price. "But it's such a fantastic name, I don't want to give it up." Besides, the business has taken off. In April, she began charging publishers $100 an ad. Current advertisers include Smart Money, Court TV, Cosmopolitan, Maxim, ARTnews, Ms., and The Nation; jobs run the gamut from editorial assistant to editorial director.

So who wins? Touby applied for the trademark to her dot.com last November, two months after her competitor applied. But according to the rules of the U.S. Patent and Trade Office, the trademark goes to whoever first used the name in commerce— and that brings us back to Touby's e-mail, which sought anyone who had posted jobs on, or gotten work from, her site last summer. While her competitor claims to have begun using the name "hireminds" in commerce August 3, Touby claims to have begun using it July 16. And she must prove it.

Within days of sending out an SOS, Touby received a flood of responses from people who used her site last summer, giving her ammunition that she thinks will enable her to win the claim. The attorney for hire-minds.com did not return calls for comment. Touby encourages anyone in a similar position to apply for a trademark right away, and recommends the site patents.com as a resource.

"Do your homework before you invest a dime in your Web site, and you'll be prepared to fend off cybersquatters," concurs Andrew Miller, a lawyer at New York's Brown Raysman Millstein Felder & Steiner. In addition to applying for trademarks, he says, "make sure to buy any domain names you may want to use, and make sure they aren't trademarks of another company in your field." Domain names cost $70; trademarks can be researched and applied for at the site uspto.gov.


Blurb-O-Matic

That Kurt Andersen's new novel, Turn of the Century, is on its way to bestsellerdom will surprise no one familiar with the publicity that accompanied it. The book was edited by the editor in chief of Random House and promoted by the swank PR firm PMK. On May 10, The New Yorker, where Andersen is on staff, threw a book party that was slavishly chronicled by The New York Times— and so on.

TOC is being pitched as a "way we live now" book, and in case anyone missed the point, stock trader and financial writer James Cramer, a friend of Andersen, blurbed it in a pro bono review he posted on Amazon.com, calling TOC "the classic novel for our era." But Cramer didn't have to bother— on the day of the party, Entertainment Weekly crowned Andersen a master of the zeitgeist.

"At last, an entertaining novel that accurately captures the 1990s: [TOC] gets our computer-driven, media-obsessed era down cold," read the EW subhead, a sentence so perfectly crafted that it has cropped up in a Random House ad for the book. Never mind that the ad shortens the reviewer's phrase, "an astonishing doorstop of a debut," to "an astonishing debut"— a blurb is a blurb is a blurb.

Meanwhile, TOC has inspired mixed reviews, ranging from raves (The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal) to raspberries (The New York Observer, Fortune, Newsweek, and Slate). You're either going to love this book or hate it, it seems. Even on Amazon.com, readers tend to rate it with five stars or one.

Given that Andersen knows everybody in the media world, TOC defenders may be tempted to dismiss every pan as the result of some animus on the part of the reviewer. But when the entire pool of potential reviewers has a personal opinion of the author, any single review could be tainted, not just those by "enemies," who bear a grudge because of some perceived slight, but also those by "friends," who may be predisposed to flatter him in return for some favor. Thus the most honest analysis of the book is one that attempts to consider the reviews collectively.

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