A number of top smart card and computer companies have banded together to develop an open standard for using smart cards with personal computers for network access, Internet access, and payments.

Industry heavyweights Microsoft Corp., Schlumberger Electronic Transactions, Hewlett-Packard Co., Bull CP8, and Siemens Nixdorf Informationssysteme AG, will provide the protocol to the industry for free. Observers said the move will help drive smart cards into the market place.

The partners have been collaborating since May and expect to release the standard by the end of the year for comment, suggestions for improvement, or adoption.

"It's a great application for smart cards because of their inherent security capabilities," said Tom Lebsack, director of marketing for Schlumberger, the French smart card manufacturer.

The standard could be built into Web browsers or operating systems like Windows NT. "We see smart cards as the key ingredient for the wide-scale adoption of public key technology," said Prady Misra, product unit manager, Internet security, Microsoft.

He said smart cards would enable portability of these keys, part of the so-called digital signature. Large corporations will be enabled to use smart cards for secure access to their computer systems, intranets, and for secure on-line purchasing.

Officials said the standard will promote interchangeability of smart cards, readers, and computers made by different companies. They added that the standard will not conflict with other standards such as Secure Electronic Transactions, or SET, for on-line credit card payments, and Europay, MasterCard, and Visa, or EMV standards, for smart card use.

In France, Gemplus, Banque Nationale de Paris, Societe Generale, Visa, and France Telecom are working on open standards to promote secure smart card payments over the Internet through a personal computer. That project is limited to payments through bank cards, and is not inclusive of network access.

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