A company started by two members of the Ford automotive family is seeking patent protection for a set of Web products designed for the world's wealthiest families.
RapportNET LLC of Dearborn, Mich., sets up and operates customized private Web sites that enable family members and their staff to share information securely. It is also marketing its products for financial institutions to offer to wealthy clients under private labels. The company announced last week that it is requesting patents for its Web site and data-access structures.
RapportNET was founded in 1999 by Edsel B. Ford 2d, a great-grandson of Ford Motor Co. founder Henry Ford; his cousin, Alfred B. Ford, a philanthropist and real estate developer; and Paula George Tompkins, the chief executive officer of SoftAd Group Inc., a Mill Valley, Calif., developer of e-business software.
In a press release, Edsel Ford said that harnessing the "tremendous power" of the Internet is important for successful families. "Just as many established companies are finding that the Internet is allowing them to rethink how they manage their business, so will it allow families and individuals to rethink how they manage themselves, their assets, and every other aspect of their lives."
Marita Grobbel, the vice president of business development for RapportNET, said the company currently has six families as clients, and it is setting up sites for another 20 families. The company has signed a deal to market its products through a private bank, and negotiations are under way with eight other financial institutions, she said.
The average client family's net worth is in the hundreds of millions, so safety and privacy are paramount when the company develops the sites, Ms. Grobbel said. "Access is highly secure. Each family member would only go in and see things each of them have been given permission to see. It's almost like an electronic file drawer, where you can only see a particular file if you've been given permission to."
RapportNET-designed sites let users collaborate with family members and advisers, maintain family history and contact information, get market updates, view personal financial reports, evaluate investment opportunities, and review and approve bill payments.
The company, which uses technology from numerous providers, also offers what Ms. Grobbel calls "lifestyles services," such as online shopping and information on philanthropic activities.
Other companies had components of RapportNET's products but lacked its breadth of offerings, Ms. Grobbel said.
Gene Krinn, a RapportNET customer who manages a private family office in Chicago, agreed with that assessment. He said his family looked around before choosing RapportNET about a year ago, but could not find comparable services elsewhere.
"There really wasn't anything available that is this comprehensive, the reason being that the family who put it together had the substantial capacity that the Ford family does," he said. "There really is no other competition for this kind of family Web site, other than if the family has created one themselves."
Mr. Krinn said his family, which is involved in real estate, uses its Web site daily. Family members are scattered across the United States, and the site has helped them publish documents and send private, secure e-mail, he said. "We're very happy with it."