Giesecke & Devrient has become the latest smart card manufacturer to back the Java Card API, or application programming interface.

The German company announced a licensing agreement last week with Sun Microsystems Inc., creator of the Java programming language.

The Java Card API is an element in Sun Microsystems' blueprint for "scalable" network computing that involves easily transportable programs running on systems and devices of any size.

Visa International and Citicorp are among the organizations that have incorporated Java in smart card strategies.

Two of Giesecke & Devrient's France-based competitors, Gemplus and Schlumberger, jointly organized the Java Card Forum in February to promote applications of the standard in various markets. The forum founders announced in July that the Bull Group's CP8 Transac unit and De la Rue Card Systems, which was formerly known as Philips Smart Cards and Systems, had also joined.

Munich-based Giesecke & Devrient, which does business in the United States as G&D America, Reston, Va., said it was attracted to the "user- friendliness and universal acceptance" of Java, namely its ability to operate regardless of computer operating system. Programs can be loaded on to cards via network lines at any time, and changes therefore do not require production of entirely new cards.

"Our aim is to expand the product line of high-security smart cards by taking part in global standardization," said Jurgen Nehls, a Giesecke & Devrient director and head of the cards and card systems division. He said the company, with Java, "will have easier access to new markets such as Internet payments, electronic commerce, and loyalty programs."

The company is planning to exhibit its first Java card applications next year at the CeBIT '98 fair in Hannover, Germany.

Jon Kannegaard, vice president of software products in Sun Microsystems' JavaSoft unit, said the company was pleased that another "leader in smart card technology and electronic payment systems" has recognized Java as a de facto standard.

The Java Card Forum said in July that its business committee, headed by Michel Roux of Gemplus, had 15 company members, with more expected to follow. The forum also sponsors technical working groups. The technical committee president is Bertrand du Castel of Schlumberger.

"Java has irrevocably changed the smart card world," said forum president Christian Goire of Bull. "It will soon become obvious to all once major Java applications start hitting the streets." u

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