NBS Technologies Inc. and Bull Group are collaborating to develop smart card terminals and market them in the United States and Canada.
Bull, a leading smart card and systems manufacturer headquartered in France, will combine its technological expertise with Toronto-based NBS's geographical distribution in North America.
NBS and Bull did not disclose terms of their agreement.
Alliances have become the norm as leading smart card companies vie for position in what they anticipate will be an explosion of smart card use in North America, where acceptance has lagged Europe's.
The deal with NBS, a major Canada-based maker of point of sale terminals, is "very important for Bull for one reason," said Philippe Bontemps, marketing director in the Bull electronic funds transfer division, Barcelona. "From a terminal point of view, we have no presence in the U.S. and Canada. NBS as a company has a great position in the card area and has a great position in Canada in the terminal business.
"It is a company with which we have a lot of points of convergence."
Mr. Bontemps said Bull will contribute platforms and operating systems and NBS will customize them for the North American market.
"There is a need to accelerate smart card product development in the United States," said Gerald R. Dunkelman, NBS business development manager. He acknowledged NBS has "had a number of entries into the U.S. market, which have not resulted in much penetration."
In Canada, NBS's closest point of sale rival is International Verifact Inc. That company last year formed a similar alliance with the Paris-based Groupe Ingenico to accelerate smart card activity.
"NBS is a company that has had a fair amount of success in the credit card arena," said Thomas Ream, U.S. president, Intellect Electronics Inc., another international competitor in smart card terminals. But he said NBS has struggled to make a significant mark outside of Canada.
Dan A. Cunningham, senior vice president of Phoenix Planning and Evaluation Ltd. in Rockville, Md., said NBS doesn't "have a major presence in smart card manufacturing." The Bull arrangement "fills out the product line for both companies, and it is complementary. It gives them more products to sell and solutions for customers."
Mr. Cunningham said the alliance enables Bull to distribute products in North America without making a large infrastructure investment.
Bull made another, separate alliance announcement with Keyware Technologies of Brussels. Keyware, which has a U.S. office in Woburn, Mass., said it will combine with Bull's CP8 smart card manufacturing unit to build biometric identification into chip cards.
The companies had previously developed a voice-based system to verify identities of cardholders. The companies are turning their attention to automated teller machine and on-line banking applications, and plan to offer other forms of biometric ID.