In what one of its executives described as an "exciting breakthrough" for smart card technology, American Express Co. announced Monday that 13 companies, including some of its close competitors, agreed to license a technical framework that it proposed in 1997.

The program is designed to promote compatibility across systems by defining how data and functions reside on cards and how to gain access to them. Amex wanted to demonstrate "steadfast commitment to achieving global and open interoperability," said vice president Glenn Weiner.

The endorsers include MasterCard International, its affiliate Europay International, and the Discover Card organization.

Also in the group are computer industry leaders IBM, Microsoft, and Sun Microsystems, and smart card vendors De La Rue and Orga. Visa International announced its intention to join.

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