Some people have seen the potential of registering Web site domain names en masse. In 1995, MailBank.com Inc., a Reno, Nev., company, began registering 12,000 surnames - which they say represent more than 70 percent of the U.S. population's last names - for its fee-based e-mail service. To date, the company has paid about $2.5 million to register and renew their rights to the names. "Personalizing the Internet" is the motto for this company that, for $9.95 a year, rents e-mail addresses that pair first and last names, for example, JK@Hewlitt.com., and for $19.95 helps individuals post a Web page.
"The reason that name is attractive to me is not that I want people to recognize my name, but they can remember my e-mail address because my name is my address," said J.K. Hewlitt, MailBank.com's chief financial officer.
The company was sued for trademark infringement by Avery Dennison, a California label company, for using the surnames of Avery and Dennison. MailBank. com won the case on the grounds that the names Avery and Dennison were "very common and anybody was entitled to register them," said G. Gervaise Davis III, a Monterey attorney who specializes in Internet-related issues and represented MailBank.com. "Our argument was that this is a lot better than having one person take the domain name and preclude everybody else from using it."