By SARA FISHER

Staff Reporter

It's a chicken-and-egg question: What comes first, a company's name or its Internet address?

Ask Jess Wall, managing director of Tridian Design and Development, a Northridge Web design and marketing company.

Before hitting upon Tridian, Wall and his partner spent over two months dreaming up names for their start-up company, only to discard them after discovering that the corresponding Web address was already taken.

It's becoming a familiar problem. As Web sites become basic components of most business plans, L.A. companies face growing difficulties that range from not getting first-choice Internet addresses to dealing with mistaken identities. With up to five new top-level domain names expected to be introduced as early as September adding to the now-familiar .com, .edu, .org and .gov suffixes companies and intellectual property attorneys are bracing for more confusion.

"I'm hearing about more and more companies not being able to get the addresses they want," said Kathleen Allen, a professor of entrepreneurship at USC. "With the new address extensions (top-level domains) pending and with the growing sense among businesses that they need a Web site as a marketing tool, this is going to become a huge issue."

Like Wall, other heads of L.A. start-up companies report that they are changing their companies' names for no other reason than to match an available Web address.

Creative spelling is one option. Gary Pietruszka, president of BildNet, originally wanted to call his North Hollywood software development company BuildNet, but "buildnet.com" was already taken. "Bildnet.com" was available, however, so he snapped up that address and named his company accordingly.

Now Pietruszka realizes the obscurity of BildNet, and for that and other reasons, he is in the process of changing company's name to the more easily understandable "BuildEZ." Not incidentally, "BuildEZ.com" will be the company's new Web address.

"All the good names have been grabbed up," Pietruszka said. "I know a lot of companies in L.A. that settled for names they didn't originally want. Also, I think we're going to see more and more people spelling words a bit more awkwardly."

Jon Goodman, director of EC2, an incubator for multimedia and electronic communications start-up companies at USC, said that companies willing to be creative in their names shouldn't have significant trouble in registering addresses, for now.

"For companies that choose not to alter their name or spelling often for brand-name reasons almost all of those cases have been settled by the expedient factor of paying money to the current holder of the name," she said.

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