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Open Market scores new patent

The software firm scores another e-commerce patent, but is keeping mum on how it will use the technology.

Software firm Open Market has scored another e-commerce patent, but is keeping mum on how it will use the technology.

The patent, titled "Network sales system," was issued June 1 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Open Market is calling it "CommerceTone."

The key element in the patent appears to be the ability for a shopper who has registered at one Web storefront to use the same "one-click payment" capability on other sites. For that to work, however, all sites must be running Open Market's software.

"We are intrigued by the notion of networking together commerce systems and creating electronic commerce networks, so a buyer or seller could be provided a universal dial tone for commerce," said Jeff Bussgang, Open Market's vice president of marketing. The patented technology was created in Open Market's advanced development group that is "tinkering about new ideas," he added.

"Other than that, we're not talking about it. It is not something that has publicly launched," Bussgang said.

The concept, as outlined in the patent abstract, relates to linking a buyer's computer, a merchant's computer, and a computer that receives payment messages over a computer network like the Internet.

Open Market first used the term CommerceTone publicly in February, when it announced that Lycos would license Open Market's e-commerce software.

"The long-term plan is to create a network of buyers and sellers. Merchants will be able to tie into Lycos and get access to the Lycos buyer community no matter where their stores are hosted," Keith Lietzke, an Open Market director of marketing, said in February.

In theory, that would broaden the exposure of any retailer using Open Market software and make it easier for consumers to buy products on multiple sites.

But other efforts are underway to make it easier for shoppers to buy on different sites without filling out forms for each merchant.

Yesterday, a consortium of credit card and computer companies said they're pushing a standard for electronic wallets, software that contains credit card numbers and other forms of payment.

The Electronic Commerce Modeling Language or ECML, is a format that defines how to present key elements in electronic wallets. Backing ECML are firms including America Online, Visa U.S.A., Compaq, MasterCard, American Express, CyberCash, Microsoft, IBM, Sun Microsystems, Transactor Networks, and Trintech.

Their goal is the same as Open Market's: Don't make consumers fill out the same information at multiple Web storefronts.

In addition to this recent patent, Open Market announced three e-commerce patents in early 1998 but still hasn't licensed them.