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METHOD AND SYSTEM FOR MULTIPLE
INCOME-GENERATING BUSINESS CARD
AND REFERRAL NETWORK
This application claims priority benefit under 35 U.S.C § 119/120 based on application 60/702,531 filed Jul. 25, 2005.
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates to a method and system for generating income and promoting commercial transactions using a database, a network and a staple item such as the business card, referral card or credit card, and more specially relates to a multiple income-generating business card and referral network, for both card holders and card recipients, using the Internet, databases and servers.
Business cards have long been used by individuals to promote themselves or the product and services they represent. However, once a business card is handed out to a recipient, the card basically does not provide any assurance that the recipient will patronize the card-owner's business, or purchase any products from the card-owner. The use of the card in a way that is beneficial to the card-owner is entirely at the hands of the recipient. Of course, exchanging business cards has become such a common practice nowadays that people just hand them out quite readily no matter what. Even when the recipient gets in touch with the card-owner based on the information on the card, there is still no assurance of any direct and immediate benefit to the card-owner.
Therefore, it is desirable to be able to make the recipient's use of the business card to generate direct and immediate benefit to the card-owner ("first owner").
Additionally, once a direct and immediate benefit is conferred upon the card-owner, it is desirable to be able to benefit the recipient as well.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
A system and method for using a communications network with a server and a database to provide incomegenerating business card and referral card network is disclosed. In one embodiment, a credit card issuer provides a set of personalized business cards to a first customer for his use, upon qualifying the first customer for a credit card from the card issuer. The business cards can be used to receive a discount from a merchant within certain network affiliated with the card issuer. At the same time, the business cards provides a linkage to the first customer's account, so that the first customer will receive a credit to his account, based on the second customer's use of the business card at an affiliated merchant. The second customer is then invited to apply for a credit card from the card issuer. If the second customer qualifies and accepts the credit card, the second customer receives his own set of personalized business cards for distribution. Whenever the second customer uses his credit card anywhere, another credit is applied to the first customer. Also, whenever a third customer uses the second customer's business card during a commercial transaction, the second customer will receive a credit in his account. If the third customer also becomes a credit card holder from the card issuer, the second customer will then receive a credit whenever the third customer uses his credit card anywhere. The system may be set up so that the customers who refer
continue to receive credits whenever customers from one or more levels below use the business cards for discounts, or use their own credit cards. As a way to provide more motivation and rewards, the system may also be set up so
5 that the customers who refer continue to receive new business cards whenever one of his business cards results in a credit card being issued to those who are referred by his business cards.
In another embodiment, the system provides a set of
10 referral cards to the card holder, where the referral cards give a discount to whoever presents the referral card during shopping, and provide a link to the card holder's account for issuing credits. The card holder's account will receive a credit, whenever one of the referral cards is used by another
15 customer during a transaction, whenever one of the referred customers applies and receives a credit card, or whenever one of the referred customers uses the credit card.
In yet another embodiment, the system provides a set of business or referral cards to a first member within a mer
20 chant network. If the first member gives the card to a second person, who comes to shop within the merchant network while referring to the card received from the first member, the second person will receive a discount, while the first member receives a credit to his account. If the second person
25 accepts the invitation and becomes a member of the merchant network ("second member"), then the first member will receive a credit whenever the second member shops within the merchant network, regardless of the second member's method of payment. The second member is also
30 issued a set of his own business or referral cards for his own distribution. If a third person uses the second member's business or referral card, then the third person is entitled to receive a discount, while the second member (and even first member) receives a credit to his account. If the third person
35 becomes a member ("third member"), then the second member (and even first member) will receive a credit whenever the third member shops within the merchant network, regardless of his method of payment. As a way to provide more motivation and rewards, the system may also
40 be set up so that the customers who refer continue to receive new business or referral cards whenever one of his cards results in new membership from those who are referred by his referral cards.
45 BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
FIG. 1(a) illustrates one exemplary embodiment of the business card for use with the present invention.
FIG. 1(b) illustrates another exemplary embodiment of 50 the business card for use with the present invention.
FIG. 2 illustrates an exemplary system diagram in accordance with the present invention.
FIG. 3(a) illustrates a simple exemplary process flow in accordance with the present invention. 55 FIG. 3(b) illustrates another exemplary process flow in accordance with the present invention.
FIG. 4 illustrates another exemplary process flow in accordance with the present invention.
60 DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE
A system and method for using a communications network coupling a server and a database to provide a multi65 layer income-generating business card and referral network (hereinafter "BCN") for cardholders, card issuers and merchants is disclosed. Any applicant may become part of the
BCN by applying for a credit card or debit card at a card issuer, a bank, e.g. Chase Manhattan®, or an agent or affiliate of the card issuer, e.g. Starbucks® or KFC®, followed by actual consumption using the issued credit card. It should be noted that the "business card" may be in 5 physical form, such as the conventional business card, or in electronic/virtual form, such as one distributed through electronic means or through the Internet. In the traditional mode, one gives a physical business card to his recipient. In the electronic world, one gives an electronic message to his 10 recipient, typically through an electronic email. Also, for those carrying personal digital assistants ("PDA") or smart phones, people exchange "business cards" by beaming each other's data using infrared ("IR") links. Further, the "business card" may take the form of a simple referral coupon, 15 which allows the system to trace back to the source of the coupon during transaction. The referral coupon may simply indicate the BCN network and the account number for the referral source. All of the above forms of business cards, or referral coupons, are collectively referred to simply as 20 "business cards" for the ease of description hereinafter.
Upon approval, the applicant is now qualified for joining the BCN, and the applicant is issued a credit card or debit card. The card issuer can now have an account set up by its server 220 (FIG. 2) on its database 224 (FIG. 2) for the 25 applicant in the BCN. For the simplicity of description, the credit card or debit card will be referred to simply as a "credit card" in the following description. By using the credit card in a commercial transaction, say, within 10 days, the cardholder is now officially in the BCN, which entitles 30 the cardholder to receive direct and immediate benefits on the cardholder's account, as will be described below. Of course, the system may be set up so that the applicant is automatically enrolled, without having to first use the card within certain days. However, having the applicant use the 35 card is beneficial in promoting more credit card transactions.
Also, it should be noted that the "credit card" may be in electronic format, e.g. virtual cash stored on the cardholder's mobile phone. The credit card may also be in biometric format, where authentication for transaction is based on 40 recognition of the cardholder's retina, fingerprint or other biometric data. In other words, as long as there is a way to authenticate the cardholder (electronically or biometrically), a "credit" transaction may take place, where the merchant is guaranteed payment based on authentication of the cus- 45 tomer. Therefore, the use of the term "credit card" or "debit card" is not intended to be limiting or restrictive, but merely illustrative of one aspect of the present invention.
Reference is to FIG. 2. The server 220 and database 224 are of course connected to a communications network 200, 50 e.g. the Internet or a virtual private network, such that the card issuer, its agents or affiliated merchants may sign up applicants anywhere through the communications network 200.
In addition to the credit card, the "cardholder" is issued a 55 starter set of personalized business cards, where each of the business cards contains information about the cardholder's account, and information about discounts given by certain merchants who participate in the network. For example, as shown in FIG. 1(a), the business card 100 displays the 60 cardholder's contact information 105, just like a typical business card for either personal or business use. Additionally, the business card 100 displays, or provides linking to, the cardholder's account number in alphanumeric digits, in bar code format, or other machine/human readable format 65 110. Of course, the cardholder's account information may even be embedded in a passive or active integrated circuit
chip 110, provided it is cost-effective. Finally, the business card 100 displays the identifiers or logos 120, or even the discount policy, of those merchants who will issue, say, a one-time discount to whoever presents this business card 100 at a point of sale. The logos 120 can serve as a quick reminder for the cardholder when he or she decides where to conduct business or shop.
It should be noted that the cardholder may, instead, be issued a set of bar code stickers for attachment to his or her existing business cards. Also, instead of having the merchant identifiers or logos displayed on the business card 100, those merchants who participate in the BCN can simply display a logo representative of its affiliation with the BCN at the store front, or on their web sites if they are on-line businesses. FIG. 1(b) illustrated another embodiment of the present invention, where the business card 100 is now printed showing with the business card network, or BCN 122, allowing the business holder to readily identify any participating merchants. This alternate approach will ensure that the logos are not constrained by the size of the business card 100, since the BCN 122 may easily encompass more merchants than there is room for on the business card 100. Also, since from time to time new merchants may join the BCN, and old merchants may depart the BCN, having the merchants display their affiliation at their sites will make it easier for customer recognition.
Also, instead of physical business cards, the cardholder may be issued electronic business cards, or electronic referral coupons, which can link to the cardholder and allow the cardholder to electronically distribute his business card. Instead of physically distributing his business cards, the cardholder simply distributes his electronic business cards, or electronic coupons, to his associates through e-mail, or by exchanging the IR beam of their PDAs. Upon receiving the electronic cards, the recipients can use them to get the discounts, via on-line shopping or traditional shopping, by presenting the code on the electronic card. Therefore, the invention is not limited to business cards in the physical format. Rather, it can be extended to any means, such as electronic, wireless, virtual or physical, where the cardholder's information is distributed to a recipient. In fact, the cardholder may even be issued his "business card" by receiving text messages or short-messages ("SM") on his cell phone. By physically or electronically distributing the SM to his recipients, the SM can be used as code to link the purchase to the cardholder's account.
Cardholder's First Line of Direct and Immediate Benefit
Reference is now turned to FIG. 2, where a simplified diagram illustrating one aspect of the present invention is disclosed. After cardholder Albert receives the credit card and the business cards (or the bar code stickers as previously described), he may distribute his business cards to anyone, as in the case of his typical business cards. When a customer Bob presents cardholder Albert's business card to a merchant MA 210 during a purchase, Bob will receive a one-time discount, e.g. 10% off, for his purchase. Also, the merchant MA 210 will notify the card issuer's server 220 so that cardholder Albert account 230 will receive a one-time credit, e.g. 0.5%, based on Bob's consumption. Cardholder Albert may thus receive a first direct and immediate benefit on his account whenever one of his business cards is presented by one of his recipients to a merchant in the BCN. Since each card entitles cardholder Albert to receive one credit, after all the business cards are presented for discount by his recipients, cardholder Albert's first line of benefit may reach its end, but it does not have to end this way. The system may, alternately, be set up so that Albert continues to