FIELD OF THE INVENTION
This invention relates to a computer based system for conducting commercial transactions and, more particularly, to a system which includes the provision for the transfer of funds or other redeemable value from an account under the control of one entity to another account with clearing being effected in real time and without the transfer of hard cash or electronic cash of the nature described below.
Still more particularly, but not exclusively, the invention relates to a system for enabling the convenient transfer of amounts of money value including both relatively small and large amounts of money value, for example, from one person to another or to a merchant, and which can obviate other systems which enable value (sometimes referred to as electronic cash, or e-cash) to be transferred from one electronic purse or wallet, usually in the form of a smart card, to another, in transactions free of hard cash.
BACKGROUND TO THE INVENTION
There have been numerous different proposals of systems aimed at substantially diminishing the use of hard cash in every-day transactions, particularly, but by no means exclusively, transactions of small money value and also aimed at the disposal of income, with a view to improving convenience, safety and security and particularly with a view to avoiding the necessity of persons carrying appreciable amounts of hard cash on their person.
Broadly, the proposals which are currently under consideration and some of which are being implemented, involve the use of a smart card or equivalent electronic memory embodied in a dedicated physical entity (herein referred to as a smart card irrespective of actual physical form), often referred to in the industry as an electronic purse or wallet, in which a positive cash balance is retained in memory for utilization by transferring amounts from time to time to a similar smart card of another person or of a supplier of goods or services.
Whilst many of these systems might operate effectively from a conceptual point of view, applicant believes that they suffer from basic disadvantages from a practical point of view not least of which are the possibility of the smart card or other physical entity being stolen or lost and the necessity that a person needing to replenish the credit or other redeemable value in the smart card generally needs to present it physically to a machine or institution. Also, these systems mostly involve the use of special equipment with which the electronic purse can communicate at a point of sale in order to effect a transfer of electronic cash and such equipment represents an appreciable cost.
Various other proposals have therefore been put forward to avoid the use of an electronic purse or other physical entity such as a smart card. One such proposal is that set out in U.S. Pat. No. 5,991,749 to Morrill Jr. The proposal put forward in this prior patent hinges on the use of a cellular telephone provider's central processing unit (CPU) and the cellular telephone accounts structure for enabling commercial transactions to be carried out by suitable operation of a cellular telephone to credit and debit the relevant cellular telephone accounts. It is mentioned that other accounts could be debited and credited but no meaningful disclosure of any such arrangement is provided.
Whilst this proposal does address certain of the difficulties inherent in the smart card type of proposals it too has a number of serious disadvantages, at least when particular objectives are to be achieved. In particular, other than in a pre-paid situation, ultimate retention of the funds by the recipient is still dependent on recovery thereof by the service provider from the subscriber and the transaction is reversible at the instance of the service provider.
PCT patent publication no WO9613814 describes a similar arrangement but one in which the transfer of funds is aimed at being carried out in the bank's computer system without any attempt to address the general difficulties associated with the manner in which banks control clients' accounts and more particularly the way in which they control access to newly deposited funds as indicated below.
The general difficulties which applicant perceives in both of the latter proposals as well as in systems presently in common use and which employ credit cards, debit cards, cheques and other fund transfers carried out by a financial institution such as stop orders, debit orders and the like, is that any fund transfer credited to an account of a recipient can be reversed at the instance of, in amongst others, the payer of the relevant funds with the assistance of the relevant financial institution, the service provider in the case of the system of Morrill, the payer's bank or other financial institution in cases in which a bank or other financial institution is involved, or a credit card company which may be involved. Thus there is considerable doubt on the part of the recipient for an appreciable length of time as to whether or not the transfer can be relied upon fully.
Added to this problem is the fact that financial institutions very often restrict the immediate use of deposited funds for an appreciable length of time, typically days, but sometimes even weeks pending clearance. This problem is particularly commonplace in respect of payments made by cheque.
It is in overcoming the latter general difficulties that smart cards and other electronic money can be an attractive solution in spite of their disadvantages as set out above.
OBJECT OF THE INVENTION
It is, accordingly, an object of this invention to provide a computer based system for conducting commercial transactions whereby one or more of the general difficulties outlined above may be overcome and the general disadvantages of the smart card type of arrangement may also be addressed whilst retaining, at least to a significant extent, the advantages of the smart card type of arrangement.
In this specification it is to be understood that the following terms are to be according the meanings stated hereunder.
“Bank” means any financial institution carrying on the business of transferring funds held on behalf of, or loaned to, a customer and recorded in a computer data base record from that data base record to a computer data base record of another customer of that, or of another, institution whether or not the institution complies with the local or national requirements for trading under the name of a bank.
“Cleared”, “clearance” or any other form of the word as applied to a transaction means that the relevant credit has become available for use by the recipient without restriction by the computerized server in which the relevant financial data base record is held.
“Electronic purse” includes “electronic wallets” and other equivalents and is intended to mean any electronic memory for retaining data which translates into a positive balance of redeemable value units, usually, but not necessarily, units of currency generally referred as electronic money or e-cash and which can generally be used as and when desired by or on behalf of the holder by a simple credit transfer off-line with respect to any bank or credit card institution.
“Financial data base record” is intended to mean any data base record including data as to an amount of money reflected in currency units or a record of a number of any other type of redeemable or consumable units having value.
“Irreversible” as applied to a transaction means that, absent criminal activity (including fraud) or processing error (whether hardware or software related) the transaction cannot be reversed other than at the instance of the recipient.
“Merchant” is intended to include all suppliers of goods and services of all types which may be participating system members as herein defined but irrespective of such membership have been allocated a financial data base record in a computerized server of the invention as defined below.
“Mobile device” means any device communicating by way of a wireless network operated by a service provider and including mobile telephones but which need not necessarily assume the form of a telephone.
“Participating system member” is intended to mean any subscriber of a wireless network forming a part of a system according to this invention as hereinafter defined and includes mobile telephone subscribers as well as users of prepaid cellular or mobile services who form part of such a system.
“Settled”, “settlement” or any other form of the word as applied to a transaction means the final transfer of money or other units of value as between financial institutions; between financial institutions and a central bank; between financial institutions and computerized servers according to this invention; or between different computerized servers according to this invention and which generally take place on a periodic basis (for example daily or weekly) and wherein set-off may or may not be employed to result in a single net transfer of money or units of value in respect of a plurality and often a large number of transactions.
“Vendor” is intended to include all suppliers of goods and services of all types which do not have a financial data base record as herein defined.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
In accordance with this invention there is provided a computer based system for conducting commercial transactions and which includes a plurality of participating system members (as herein defined) each having a mobile device adapted to communicate via an associated wireless network with a general computerized server in which a financial data base record is allocated to each participating system member, the system including also a plurality of merchants (each of which by definition has been allocated a financial data base record in the computerized server) and wherein the computerized server is programmed such that financial transactions can be conducted by remote operation of the mobile device of a participating system member, via the wireless network, to result in the debiting of a financial data base record associated with an instructing participating system member and the crediting of a different financial data base record associated with any one of self, another participating system member and a merchant, the system being characterized in that in respect of at least one or more predetermined categories of transactions in respect of which the recipient is either a participating system member or a merchant, the transaction, once completed, is irreversible.
Further features of the invention provide for each transaction to become completed only after the computerized server receives a security signal from the mobile device of the participating system member whose data base record is to be debited, the security signal being either a PIN or like code inputted by the said participating system member, or a biometrically triggered authorization signal; for the security signal to be included in a composite instructing message or to be supplied by manual activation in response to on-line interrogation from the computerized server; for the mobile device to be a mobile telephone, in particular a cellular telephone; and for the said categories of transactions to include at least transactions in respect of which the recipient is one of a predetermined list of participating system members or merchants but, more typically, said categories include all transactions in respect of which the recipient is a participating system member or merchant.
Still further features of the invention provide for the program of the computerized server to disallow a requested transaction in the event that the balance of units in an instructing participating member's financial data base record is inadequate to fund the requested transaction; for the program of the computerized server to disallow a requested transaction in the event that the validity of the recipient as a participating system member or merchant cannot be verified; for the financial data base records, in the absence of special individually allocated credit facilities, to be programmed to operate exclusively on a credit balance basis; for the programming of both the mobile telephone and the general computerized server to ensure that at least messages concerning financial transactions are encrypted and decrypted in suitable manner; and for a participating system members' financial data base record to be identified, at least in part, by the relevant cellular telephone number.
The invention also provides for the computerized server to be one of a series of similarly structured and programmed associated computerized servers located optionally at different geographical localities and inter-linked such that transactions can be conducted by a participating system member of one computerized server to the financial data base record of a participating system member or merchant of a different computerized server with the transaction nevertheless becoming irreversible once completed; for at least some of the general computerized servers to be located in different countries in which case any necessary currency exchange rates (selected according to prevailing exchange rates and any particular policy being applied in relation thereto) are applied to the value of the transaction as may be appropriate in real time so as to render the transaction immediately cleared; and for settlement between the various general computerized servers to be effected periodically on a bulk basis after, in appropriate cases, setting off transactions carried out during the relevant period, or in some instances by way of a centralized settlement bank, such as a national bank of a particular country or state.
Still further features of the invention provide for the general computerized server to be programmed to receive instructions to carry out a financial transaction in the alternative via a call centre which may be manned or totally electronic in nature, via an Internet browser, or by way of interactive voice response; or from a creditor, in particular from a point of sale (POS) device; and for each participating system member to be provided with either a data retaining card such as a swipe card or another device such as one capable of communicating by radio frequency, infrared or other electromagnetic radiation, in either case for facilitating either the secure and accurate transfer of the participating system member's account number and optionally also other data to a recipient communications device which could be another participating system member's mobile device or a POS device or other device of a merchant; or for transmitting transaction related data to the initiating (payer) participating system member's mobile device.
Briefly, the system outlined above has all the advantages of a smart card or other system based on electronic money but without any of the disadvantages. However, in contradistinction, the balance of units in a financial data base record of this invention is indeed real money in a bank account with the facility of transferring it irreversibly as with hard cash or electronic cash. There are thus none of the risks associated with either forms of cash as the financial data base record is located in a secure computerized server remote from the mobile device which may be used to transfer funds to and from it.
The effect is, therefore, one in which transactions falling within the relevant categories become immediately cleared whilst settlement can take place at a later time. The invention therefore provides a system operating what are effectively cash transactions without any of the usual dangers and disadvantages associated with hard cash or electronic cash.
It is an additional feature of the invention that each data base record is able to have multiple sub-records each of which has a balance redeemable only for one specific purpose or for the advantage of one or more specific merchants or vendors or with any other limitations or controls on the individual sub-records. Alternatively, or in addition, overall controls of any desired nature can be imposed on the data base records individually, such as limiting the rate of expenditure on a time basis or on the basis of particular recipients, or both.
It is a particular feature of this invention that the financial data base record may include, or be linked to, another data base record being a personal data base record of personal information of a type which could be required in carrying out certain financial transactions such as purchasing fixed property, a motor vehicle, a television set requiring personal information for licence purposes, insurance matters etc so that the information can be made immediately available in order to complete such a transaction without any difficulty in retrieving information required. This personal information could also include details of current addresses and the programming of the computerized server could be such that when there is a change of address, this is automatically communicated to all parties which had previously been supplied with the old address. Release of personal information from such a data base record is controlled by the input of a security signal as indicated above.
A further optional facility that can be made available is for the computerized server to be programmed to issue, against a debit of a system member's financial data base record, a cryptogram adapted to unlock value of a predetermined nature or character in a system such as, for example, a vending machine of any description including the vending of cellular air time. A still further option is to provide the facility for exchanging units of one type of value for units of another type of value.
The program of the computerized server may be designed to permit, as an additional option, transactions to be conducted from the mobile device of a participating system member which have the effect of crediting directly or indirectly an account at a different participating bank such as an account nominated by an associated vendor. Such transactions will clearly not necessarily be irreversible and would be subject to the rules of the recipient bank.
It is a particular feature of this invention that the system is able to utilize the services of not only one, but also two or more wireless networks, in particular, mobile or cellular telephone networks and at least some of each network's subscribers would then make up the body of participating system members.
The general computerized server of this invention may be associated with a particular bank in a variety of different ways. It may, for example, be separate from, but in permanent or intermittent communication with, the bank whose banking system operates a bank account from which the general computerized server itself can draw and deposit funds as and when required.
In the alternative, the general computerized server of this invention may in fact be a bank's existing server re-programmed to enable transactions according to this invention to be conducted in parallel with the conventional or existing transactions usually using cheques, an ATM, and stop or debit orders. In such a case the transactions of the system of this invention may be recorded in a separate sub-ledger of the bank, for example.
As a still further alternative the server could be that of an associated mobile telephone network as proposed by Morrill but programmed to operate in accordance with this invention.
The network protocol on which a relevant mobile, in particular cellular, network, and the associated telephones operate is largely irrelevant to the functioning of the system of this invention. Thus, for example, a cellular network and cellular telephones used in the implementation of the system may be adapted for operation on the so-called Wireless Application Protocol (WAP); on the standard American systems known as CDMA and TDMA; on any future systems such as GPRS, USSD and 3G; on a browser based system such as the Wireless Internet Gateway (WIG); or on a system based on short message service (SMS) format transmissions.
Furthermore, and irrespective of the network protocol employed, it is preferred that the mobile telephone possess sufficient memory or data storage facility to enable adequate program or application material and data to be retained on the cellular telephone to enable a composite message to be formulated within the telephone and consisting of at least two and generally a group of items of information prior to a communicating connection being made to the computerized server by way of the wireless network. In this regard it is preferred that the mobile telephone be programmed with a set of standard pre-defined messages so that the appropriate message can simply be selected from a menu and completed by supplying, for example by inputting it by way of the keypad or recovering it from memory by way of another menu, any missing data prior to the composite message being communicated to the computerized server. The missing data would typically be the identity of the recipient; the amount to be transferred; and the PIN or other security signal.
In order to become a participating system member the relevant subscriber, for example a cellular telephone subscriber, need only contract with the provider of the system including the computerized server and the relevant cellular telephone must have adequate memory facility available. There is no new or enabling contractual bond necessary between a participating system member and the network provider as the network is strictly only a vehicle for enabling the communication with the computerized server. The only necessary involvement on the part of the network provider is in the instance that its cellular telephones employ SIM cards as the microprocessor memory and data storage device. The reason for this is that the network provider generally supplies the SIM cards. In any event, in such a case it is generally the SIM card that must possess adequate memory to enable the additional program material and menu data to be added to it over and above the conventional programs and menu data.
The additional applications and data may also have a “bookmark” facility for assisting in accessing particular chosen items as and when required.
It will be understood from the aforegoing that implementation of the invention can provide an extremely simple and effective system of conducting commercial transactions which can handle not only numerous transactions of relatively small value, very much in the way of existing proposals employing smart cards, but also all other transactions to which circumstances are appropriate.
In order that the above and other features of the invention may be more fully understood one embodiment as well as a variety of optional features thereof will now be described with reference to the accompanying drawings.