Drexler Technology Corp., best known for the LaserCard optical memory technology, has gotten approval for a patent that it says can enhance security in electronic commerce.
The Mountain View, Calif., company says it is seeking to combine its technology with chip cards-it calls them Smart/Optical cards-to prevent counterfeiting. It says it can customize for various electronic commerce systems, relying on "prerecorded or post-recorded validation data" encoded on the card.
So far, Drexler's combined cards have been used mostly in Europe. The company has small programs in Portugal and Italy, where the card is cobranded with banks and health-care providers.
The Smart/Optical hybrids are not the same as the larger-capacity optical cards that Drexler sells mainly for data storage.
Jerome Drexler, chairman and chief executive officer, said he hopes the recent "notice of allowance" from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will trigger discussions with other companies to further define the technology and its uses.
A presentation to a large networking and e-commerce company was scheduled this week, he said.
"This is a new area, and the market hasn't yet been established," Mr. Drexler said. "The e-commerce field is in its infancy now and will involve more aspects than someone just sitting at home and buying a book."
Mr. Drexler said he foresees, for example, a buyer and seller in different countries seeking to negotiate a payment via the World Wide Web. He sees his technology-the card with enabling software-ensuring security, through licensing agreements or alliances, in financial or other types of Internet or interactive network exchanges.
Jerome Svigals, a consultant and card technology expert in Redwood City, Calif., said the Smart/Optical card would be most useful for "very specialized companies" in the medical or defense industries, in which "the combination of the chip and the high-density storage would be beneficial."
"If you're dealing with an environment where you are sending a good deal of information and trying to highly protect it, it's quite good," Mr. Svigals said. But he warned that readers for optical cards are "very expensive."
Ninety-nine percent of Drexler's business still comes from its traditional LaserCards.
Many customers are defense contractors, whose identity often cannot be disclosed for security reasons. However, last week, Drexler announced it had gotten the Hammer Award for its work with the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency.
The optical memory card is used to "give troops an instantaneous visibility of supplies," among other functions, and can withstand "the harshest military environmental conditions," the company said.