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Rumor Has It...

Relying on blogs and fan sites can shed some light on public opinion, but read them with a grain of salt.

Ren Moulton likes visiting product blogs and rumor sites like Core77, Gizmodo, IDSA and Notcot. "Intellectual property is core," says Moulton, founder of Dogmatic Products, a 5-year-old pet products company in New York City, and Egg Design, a product design subsidiary that develops proprietary technologies.

Moulton, 37, uses these sites for brainstorming, benchmarking and creating partnerships--as well as for preventive measure, since he competes with large companies. "If we see a conglomerate is launching something, we stay away from it," he says.

But should you read these sites for product and service ideas? Jennifer Albert, partner at law firm Goodwin Proctor, says these sites are "use at your own risk." Information is theoretically free to use once it's in the public domain, "but all sorts of rights exist even if content is on a website," she says. Product liability is another issue. "If the tip isn't reliable, it could result in product misuse and a product liability claim," says Albert, who suggests you keep records showing you developed your own concepts.

Moulton relies on product blogs and fan sites up to a point. Transferring anything directly from these sites "erodes any long-term competitive advantage," he says. "We wouldn't have any competitiveness in the market."

Dan Scudder, founder of Newton, Massachusetts, college classifieds website DormItem, uses RSS to read posts generated on 150 blogs, including GigaOm and Springwise, and has created a custom RSS search feed on Technorati to instantly receive blog mentions about DormItem. "Whether they're complaining or promoting, it's great research," says Scudder, 21. His research has led to strategic partnerships with emerging companies.

Rumor sites could become central to the innovation process, especially among entrepreneurs weaned on social networking. "People on Wall Street read The Wall Street Journal," Scudder says. "This is our Wall Street Journal."

Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.

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This article was originally published in the October 2007 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Rumor Has It....

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