A Stamford, Conn., company has received a patent for an electronic commerce system that puts a bank at the center of the entire ordering and transaction process.
The company, Omnibox Inc., built its system around broadcast satellite technology, allowing consumers to order and pay for goods using a high- speed variant of interactive television.
Omnibox has tested the system with Time Warner Cable in New York and is trying to sell licenses to cable operators.
Typically, a consumer might want to scan a clothing catalogue. "That catalogue is continuously broadcast by satellite directly to your cable operator, who then passes it through his network to either your PC or your digital TV box," said Thomas A. Bush, Omnibox's chief executive.
"Our patent allows us to send the order to a transaction processor," Mr. Bush said. "All the information needed for processing is shipped to the bank - the full order, not just the credit card information."
He said he is turning to the banks because "they can handle large volumes of traffic electronically. They have the security methods in place for the transactions. Most people feel very comfortable with the banks holding their money rather than another supplier or vendor."
So far, no banks have signed up with Omnibox Inc. A senior executive at Banc One Corp. in Columbus, Ohio, said the bank is following the company's progress.
The Omnibox catalogue is stored in memory in either the computer or the set-top box. Unlike with Internet transactions, there is no back and forth dialogue between the system and a file server.
Because the system relies on broadband communications, storing entire catalogues and other data repositories in local memory, Omnibox's "rate of transmission (is) hundreds of times faster than the Internet," Mr. Bush said. Orders and inquiries have to travel in only one direction, eliminating delays.
"You can interact with that (information) as fast as you can hold down a button," he said. "The access time is in nanoseconds rather than seconds."
The bank becomes involved as soon as the consumer decides to purchase an item. Using a credit, debit, or smart card, the consumer can order through the system's remote control, and the necessary information goes directly to the bank.
"We've picked the banking network - or essentially the Federal Reserve and the banks connected to it - as the means of processing not only the transactions but the orders because they are the best suited to do it. It just hasn't been their line of business," Mr. Bush said.