WO2002063517A2 - A method and apparatus for processing a token - Google Patents

A method and apparatus for processing a token Download PDF

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Publication number
WO2002063517A2
WO2002063517A2 PCT/IE2002/000015 IE0200015W WO02063517A2 WO 2002063517 A2 WO2002063517 A2 WO 2002063517A2 IE 0200015 W IE0200015 W IE 0200015W WO 02063517 A2 WO02063517 A2 WO 02063517A2
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WO
WIPO (PCT)
Prior art keywords
token
user
device
method
remote user
Prior art date
Application number
PCT/IE2002/000015
Other languages
French (fr)
Other versions
WO2002063517A3 (en
WO2002063517A8 (en
Inventor
Michael Joseph Elias
Original Assignee
Michael Joseph Elias
Priority date (The priority date is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the date listed.)
Filing date
Publication date
Priority to IE20010104 priority Critical
Priority to IES01/0104 priority
Application filed by Michael Joseph Elias filed Critical Michael Joseph Elias
Publication of WO2002063517A2 publication Critical patent/WO2002063517A2/en
Publication of WO2002063517A3 publication Critical patent/WO2002063517A3/en
Publication of WO2002063517A8 publication Critical patent/WO2002063517A8/en

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Classifications

    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06QDATA PROCESSING SYSTEMS OR METHODS, SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES; SYSTEMS OR METHODS SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES, NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • G06Q20/00Payment architectures, schemes or protocols
    • G06Q20/30Payment architectures, schemes or protocols characterised by the use of specific devices
    • G06Q20/32Payment architectures, schemes or protocols characterised by the use of specific devices using wireless devices
    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06QDATA PROCESSING SYSTEMS OR METHODS, SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES; SYSTEMS OR METHODS SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES, NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • G06Q20/00Payment architectures, schemes or protocols
    • G06Q20/04Payment circuits
    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06QDATA PROCESSING SYSTEMS OR METHODS, SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES; SYSTEMS OR METHODS SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES, NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • G06Q20/00Payment architectures, schemes or protocols
    • G06Q20/04Payment circuits
    • G06Q20/045Payment circuits characterized in that the payment protocol involves at least one ticket
    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06QDATA PROCESSING SYSTEMS OR METHODS, SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES; SYSTEMS OR METHODS SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES, NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • G06Q20/00Payment architectures, schemes or protocols
    • G06Q20/30Payment architectures, schemes or protocols characterised by the use of specific devices
    • G06Q20/32Payment architectures, schemes or protocols characterised by the use of specific devices using wireless devices
    • G06Q20/322Aspects of commerce using mobile devices [M-devices]
    • GPHYSICS
    • G07CHECKING-DEVICES
    • G07BTICKET-ISSUING APPARATUS; FARE-REGISTERING APPARATUS; FRANKING APPARATUS
    • G07B17/00Franking apparatus
    • G07B17/00016Relations between apparatus, e.g. franking machine at customer or apparatus at post office, in a franking system
    • G07B17/0008Communication details outside or between apparatus
    • G07B2017/00112Wireless
    • G07B2017/0012Wireless in a mobile phone system

Abstract

The invention describes a method for processing a token that has been obtained by a remote user. According to the invention each token provided to a remote user includes a set of identifiers uniquely associated with that token. A copy of the set of identifiersare stored at a central server. On presentation of the token for processing, the identifiers on the token are compared to those stored centrally and the token is only processed if a match is effected.

Description

Title

A method and apparatus for processing a token

Field of the Invention

The invention relates to a method of and apparatus for processing a token retrieved from a remote user. Typically, the token relates to a specific desired service or product and is more typically implemented in a printed form. The invention may be used for example in mailing systems, franking devices, validity markers, parking tokens, payment notification and verification systems and many other applications which the skilled reader will appreciate.

Background to the Invention

A known difficulty with financial transactions is the lack of flexibility provided to users. For example a user seeking to obtain traditional services of a bank or post office is required to present himself at that location with proof of identity in order to avail of the services offered by that service provider or institution.

With the development of the internet and associated technologies there have been developments and improvements to enable a user to access remote services. Typical known examples are on-line book stores, retail outlet and internet banking. All these types of interaction between a user and the on-line service provider require the user to either pre-establish an account with the service provider which is accessed or debited during the transaction or to utilise a charge or credit card to provide payment. In the example of on-line retailers, the user makes a selection of a desired product, it is then charged to the users credit card and is despatched using traditional postal routes. The transaction is in effect a one-time interaction between the user and the remote service provider, wherein they request a desired product and service, and once the service provider has verified that they can pay for that product or service it is dispatched to the user. There is no subsequent verification or interaction between the user and the remote server.

Extensions of such remote service access include the application of technology to traditional postal services.

For example the US Postal Service has implemented a product that allows users to print postage from a local printer connected to their PCs. The user logs onto a secure server, orders and pay for postage, which is then downloaded to their PC from where it can be printed directly onto an envelope. This electronic postage service has applications for sending first-class, priority, or express mail, as well as parcel post. Such a system operates on the establishment by the user of an account with the postal service which is then decremented according to the volume of postal tokens , i.e. stamps, purchased during a specific time period.

A disadvantage with these systems is that they require, as an input from a user, specific information so as to enable it to provide the correct postage. As this information is provided as an input by the user to the system it is open to exploitation by persons of unscrupulous nature and also increases the interaction required by the user with the system to effect the retrieval of the correct token. The determination of the correct value for the token in the form of the required postage amount can be difficult if the user is unaware of the specific charges associated with different destinations and/or postal classes.

A further difficulty arises from the appreciation that as an electronic stamp is the equivalent of currency it is important that such an electronic stamping system is implemented with systems and processes that ensure the integrity and security of every single postage transaction and printed stamp. The known web-based systems utilise security features such as identity establishing information etc. provided by the user, usually together with an identification of the IP address from which the request is made. Many systems incorporate encryption techniques to improve the communication security, but once a stamp is applied to the package there are no effective techniques that can authenticate the stamp in a manner which can distinguish between a genuine and counterfeit stamp.

A further disadvantage with such systems is that they still suffer in that roaming users, such as those using mobile devices, are not catered for.

Accordingly there is a requirement for a system and method that improves the security associated with the processing of tokens that have been previously retrieved or printed by a remote user. There is a further requirement for the provision of services to users having mobile devices such as mobile telephones, PDA's etc..

Object of the Invention

Accordingly it is an object of the present invention to provide a system and method adapted to provide for an improvement in security in the subsequent processing of tokens that have been previously retrieved from a remote provider. It is a further object of the present invention to provide a method and system adapted to provide for the retrieval of tokens from a remote provider by a mobile user. Summary of the Invention

Accordingly the present invention provides a method of processing tokens, the method comprising the steps of: providing a token to a remote user, each token provided having unique identifiers associated therewith, maintaining a record in a central datastore of the identifiers associated with each token provided to remote users, receiving a request to process a token, and processing the token only if the identifiers provided on the token match those identifiers on the equivalent record of identifiers stored in the central datastore.

By providing a method that subsequently checks or verifies the authenticity of a token prior to processing that token, the present invention provides improved security for token processing. It will be appreciated that as each token has a unique identifier that must match an identifier stored on a central datastore, the possibility of persons of unscrupulous behaviour counterfeiting or in some other way misappropriating tokens is greatly reduced.

The identifiers are typically created specifically for each token at the time of request of the token by a remote user. By creating each set of identifiers at the time of creation of the token, and then maintaining a copy of that set at a central server for authentication purposes the method of the present invention is more robust than prior art techniques .

It will be appreciated that each remote user may have a multiplicity of accounts available for access at the central server and that the value for a requested token may be deducted from one or more of the accounts. In such situations the step of providing the remote user with a token may include the steps of: receiving an indicator from the remote user as to which account is to be deducted for the requested token, deducting the amount from the specific account, and forwarding the requested token to the remote user.

The method may be employed to enable a transfer of funds to a third party, the transfer being effected by a provision of a set of identifiers associated with the token to the third party such that on presentation of the identifiers by the third party, the token may be processed to credit the third party with the amount of the token.

The set of identifiers forwarded to the third party may be equivalent to the set of identifiers required for initial processing of the token or may be formed specifically for the third party. In such situations the central server is adapted not to process the token to credit the third party account until a match is effected between the identifiers presented by the third party and those identifiers stored by the central server. In such embodiments processing by the central server can involve the step of isolating the the token value from an account associated with the remote user, and holding the token in isolation until the server receives a request for the token, the request having a matching identifier. On receiving the request the matching identifier is used to enable a retrieval of the token value by the third party. This may be utilised in situations wherein a remote user wishes to supply a third party with funds without exposing the remote user to the risk of additional funds being deducted from the remote user' s account due to the necessity to supply additional account information. Furthermore the method has application where a remote user wishes to anonymously supply funds to a third party.

It will be understood that this transfer of funds may be enabled by the provision of a unique identifier associated with the token to a third party, the third party being able to retrieve the amount on presentation of the correct identifier to the holder of the isolated token.

The identifiers typically include at least one electronic identifier uniquely associatable with the remote user.

The token is typically provided to the remote user in an electronic form, the electronic form being stored on an electronic device associated with the user. Typically the electronic device is a mobile device such as a mobile telephone or personal digital assistant (PDA).

Desirably the token is provided to the remote user using a wireless telecommunication network.

The identifier desirably includes an electronic identifier uniquely associatable with the electronic device associated with the user. Typically this identifier is a SIM card identifier associated with the electronic device.

The token is typically a financially redeemable or value token such as a stamp or money order, although it will be appreciated that many other applications or types of tokens may equivalently be used with the method of the present invention .

The method may additionally provide the step of: confirming processing of the received token to the remote user once the identifiers associated with the received token have been successfully matched with identifiers stored on the central datastore.

This is advantageous in that it provides a reliable manner of tracking tokens such as stamps applied to parcels or indeed when a financial token such as a cheque or money postal order has been presented for processing.

The method may include the additional step of notifying the remote user that a token has not been processed if a predetermined interval has elapsed between the time the token was provided to the remote user, and a time the system verifies that the token has not been presented for processing .

When used as a postal stamp, the value of the token is equivalent to the correct postal charge required to effect a postal delivery of a specific package.

The step of processing the token typically includes the steps of: receiving a token for processing, examining the token to extract unique identifiers associated with the token, comparing the extracted set to the previously stored identifiers so as to determine if the token is an authentic token, and processing the token on determination that the extracted set of identifiers matches the previously stored identifiers.

The processing of such a stamp or postal token is typically effected by the postal services, the check with the stored identifiers being effected to ensure that the postal token is a genuine token. It will be appreciated that the processing of the token or package with attached token may be done remotely from a central server. In such situations the extracted set of identifies are communicated to a datastore of previously stored identifiers where they are checked and an authorisation of validity is then returned to the processing server to enable it to continue the processing or otherwise.

In a first embodiment the step of providing a token to a remote user typically includes the steps of: receiving a request for a specific token from the remote user, confirming that the remote user is authorised to effect such a request, on confirmation that the user is authorised to effect such a request storing a set of identifiers uniquely associatable with the requested token, and forwarding the requested token to the user.

The step of confirming that the remote user is authorised to effect such a request desirably includes the steps of: determining a cost for the requested token, and ascertaining whether an account associated with that remote user is able to effect such payment.

The step of ascertaining whether an account associated with that remote user is able to effect such payment desirably includes the steps of: effecting a communication link to a third party associated with the remote user, providing the third party with details of the cost associated with the requested token, receiving an authorisation from the third party to proceed with forwarding the requested token to the remote user, and effecting a decrementation of an account associated with the remote user.

The account associated with the remote user is desirably an account with the third party which has authorised the transaction.

The user's third party stored account is typically a billing account associated with a user of a mobile network.

When used for providing stamps or postal tokens the method is desirably adapted to include the additional step of calculating the correct postal rate for the token in question. Such an application is desirably effected by the following steps: receiving with the request for a postal token, an indication as to the particular type of package to which the stamp is to be applied and the destination which it is desired to send the package, effecting an estimate of the location of the remote user, calculating the correct postal rate for a user having that estimated location to send the particular package, forwarding a postal token to the user, the value of the postal token forwarded being determined by the correct postal rate calculated for that package.

The steps of effecting an estimate of the location of the remote user is desirably effected by the steps of: interfacing with a mobile network associated with the remote user so as to determine the current cell which the remote user is located in, and using the information pertaining to the current cell to determine the geographical area within which the remote user is located.

In a second embodiment the step of providing a token to a remote user comprises the steps of: providing the user with an electronic device, the electronic device adapted to store or generate a plurality of tokens on demand for that user, the device being further adapted such that on providing the user with a desired token a communication link is established with a central server and identifiers associated with the provided token are sent to the central server where they are stored for subsequent processing of the token.

The device may be further adapted to estimate a present location for the device, the estimation of the present location being effected by the following steps: effecting a communication link with a telecommunication provider associated with the electronic device and interrogating the telecommunication provider so as to determine the current location of the device within the telecommunication network.

In an alternative embodiment the device is adapted to estimate a present location for the device by means of a GPS module interfaced with the device.

The tokens received at the remote device may either be stored and presented electronically or alternatively may be printed.

The invention also provides an electronic device adapted to dispense tokens to a user, the device comprising: means for receiving a request for a token from a user, the request including information pertinent to the value of the token requested, means for associating with the token a unique identifier, the identifier being linkable to the device that dispensed the token, and means for forwarding information relating to the identifier to a third party, the information relating to the identifier being useable at a later stage for verification of the dispensed token.

In an alternative embodiment the invention provides an electronic device adapted to dispense tokens to a user, the device comprising: a request receiving module adapted to receive a request for a token from a user, the request including information pertinent to the value of the token requested, an association module adapted to associate the token with a unique identifier, the identifier being linkable to the device that dispensed the token, and a communication module adapted to forward information relating to the identifier to a third party, the information relating to the identifier being useable at a later stage for verification of the dispensed token.

The device may further include a printer adapted to print the requested token for the user.

The device is typically a mobile telecommunication device, the device having a unique identifier associated therewith so as to identify the device within a mobile telecommunication network and this identifier is typically embedded in the token provided to the user.

The device may alternatively be an attachment unit adapted to interface with a mobile telecommunication device. These and other features of the present invention will be better understood with reference to the following drawings.

Brief Description of the Drawings Figure 1 shows a network system according to the present invention,

Figure 2 shows a side view of an adapter unit according to a first embodiment of the present invention which is adapted for use with a telephone or personal digital assistant,

Figure 3 shows a cross sectional view through the adapter of Figure 2,

Figure 4 is a front view of the adapter of Figure 2 attached to a telephone, Figure 5 is a front view of the adapter of Figure 2 attached to a personal digital assistant (PDA),

Figures 6 and 7 are side views of the telephone and PDA of

Figures 4 and 5 respectively,

Figure 8 is a bottom view of the adapter, Figure 9 is a flow chart detailing steps in a method according to the present invention as applied to a mailing and franking system,

Figure 10 is a flow chart showing a sequence of steps associated with the retrieval of a token according to a second embodiment of the present invention,

Figure 11 is a flow chart showing a process flow at a central server upon receiving a request for a token, and

Figure 12 is a flow chart showing a process flow associated with the processing of a token.

Detailed Description of the Drawings

Figure 1 shows a network system 100 having a remote device 105, a central server 110 and an authentication module 120 according to the present invention and will now be described with reference to a first embodiment wherein it is applied to the retrieval of postal tokens from a postal system by a remote user. According to this embodiment, which is shown in Figure 2 to 8 the device 105 is used for placing a "franked value marking" (a stamp or some other postal value indicator) on an item intended for mailing through a terrestrial mailing system (US Postal System or Irish or French etc....).

Figure 2 shows a side view of an adapter unit 200 according to this embodiment of the present invention which is adapted for use with a telephone or personal digital assistant. The unit 200 attaches to a device such as a phone 400 (as shown in Figure 4), or in Figure 5 as a personal digital assistant 500. It may alternatively be interfaced with a landline telephone or a connected computer terminal. The combination of the unit 200 and the telephone of alternative communication device forms the device 105 of Figure 1. In preferred embodiments the connection is via a wireless communication link and is particularly suited for mobile telephones or PDA's. Although shown as separate components in Figures 2 to 8 it will be appreciated that the adapter unit functionality and telephone or PDA could be merged into a single unit.

In this first embodiment the unit 200 comprises a connection plug extension 202, a memory unit 203 and desirably an encryption chip 204. A GPS or triangulation chip 205 may additionally be provided. A printing bus and cache unit 206 are provided, together with a motor and pulley 207 for pulling a printing head 210. A track for the printing head 208 and a processor 209 adapted to perform calculations may also be provided. Additional components may include an ink replenishing track 211 for the printing head 210, a filling port 212, an ink well 213, a processor board 214 and a modem 215. It will be appreciated that the provision of the modem or alternative connection bus enables the device to "talk" to other devices using many different technology modes such as but not limited to use of blue-tooth technology.

It will be appreciated that this description of the functional components of a unit 200 are described with reference to an exemplary embodiment thereof, and other units may include all or none of the described components. Furthermore it will be appreciated that at any stage the printing device may be updated, a mobile communication link or device may be incorporated or a link to a personal computer may be incorporated. Additionally for certain applications it may be considered prudent to incorporate a battery. Alternatively the unit may draw power from an associated device such as from a mobile telephone or PDA - such as those shown in Figures 4 and 5.

The methodology associated with this first embodiment will now be described with reference to the flow chart steps outlined in Figure 9. In order to retrieve a token, which will be described with reference to a postal token or stamp, the user first interfaces with the unit to activate the process (Step 900). The user is prompted to provide information to the device as to whom or which destination the parcel is intended (Step 910) . This information can be input manually to the device (Step 920) or alternatively the device may have an address book from which the names and addressed can be search and pulled from (Step 925) .

The user may then be offered the opportunity to change the sender information (Step 930) . As with the insertion of the recipient's address, this can be done manually (Step 935) or alternatively by pulling it from a previously stored database (Step 940) . The device is typically adapted to accept user information about the intended mail item. The information is input through keys, touch pads, voice recognition or otherwise until the following information is compiled:

a) Recipient country, address b) Recipient's name c) Weight of package d) Postal service choice (priority, next day, 2 day, airmail etc.)

Once all information relating to the sender and recipient has been input then the device is adapted to process and assimilate all such information (Step 945) .

The device is capable of recognising its own location at the time of stamping through vector triangulation with mobile phone receiving towers such as those provided by the mobile telecommunication network or authentication module 120, or by using the GPS chip provided within its architecture (Step 950) .

Once the information relating to the sender and recipient have been input and the sending location is known the device is then able to calculate the correct cost for sending the desired mail package (Step 955) . The device calculates the correct postage with the latest postal rates which are typically stored locally within the device or the device may interface with a postal service provider to ascertain the correct rate for the region in question.

Having calculated the correct postal rate, the device (105) then contacts a central database (110) of information (through its connectivity- mobile phone or otherwise) to either deduct the cost of said frankings from a customer' s account or simply record the frankings so as to tabulate an end of week, month or yearly bill (Step 960) .

It will be appreciated that the former system of charging (deduction from an account) requires for there to have been an account created. This can be accomplished in many ways, as will be appreciated by those skilled in the art. It may, for example, be decided that tokens may be purchased in a credit format. For example, in the embodiment shown, franking credits may be purchased in the form of a credit chip that is inserted into the device and then discarded or topped up etc. It will be further appreciated that alternative payment techniques such as incrementation of an account for that user which is subsequently paid by the user are equally suitable.

Having debited the account of the user for the required amount of the transaction the device is adapted to provide to the central server a copy of the identifiers associated with the token that is to be printed. Such identifiers may include a time stamp related to the time of the transaction or may include specific unique identifiers associated with the transaction (Step 965) . The information is logged and stored by the central database. This information is used at a later stage for the processing of a mailed item.

Once confirmed (Step 970), the stamp is then printed onto the desired postal package (Step 975). The placed impression on a mail item may be made with ink (standard, ultraviolet, magnetic or otherwise) , thermal marking, or any other means of placing an impression. The impression is most likely a bar code or coding system that incorporates a series of information, and typically includes information of the type: i) Time and date of stamping ii) Sender's name and programmed address iii) Recipient's name and address iv) The postal service choice (priority, next day, 2 day, airmail etc.) v) The stamp itself: most likely an encrypted formula that incorporates all or some of the above information, vi) Any other pertinent information (to be deemed by any of said postal systems)

The device may be further adapted to record the number of items franked (stamped) and the destination of that item was sent to. The device actually calculates the costs of said frankings and the addresses with any other pertinent information .

It will be appreciated that some or all of the sequence of steps may be changed without departing from the scope of the present invention as it is not intended to limit the invention to any specific sequence of steps.

It will be further appreciated that the device may or may not incorporate a small weighing device so that the weight of the package may be immediately determined. For instance the connecting of said device to an external scale may be considered advantageous or in alternative embodiments the device may even incorporate a measurement device or system to calculate the mailing items size.

The device may be further adapted to incorporate a small bar code reader for the reading of such a marking on a mailed item.

In an exemplary embodiment of this first embodiment of the device of the present invention, the device is approximately the size of a lipstick case, having

1. dimensions are: 7 cm wide, 3-4 cm tall, 2 cm deep

2. its top surface has a port for connecting it to a mobile device (phone, PDAs, IR port etc.) the port will be of modular design so that it my be interchanged for connectivity with different devices

3. The device may incorporate its own mobile send/receive function therefore not needing to be connected to a mobile phone or landline.

4. The device house a memory unit that maintains mailing information, postal code costs, calculation models for calculating postal costs from locations (incorporating weight) and any other pertinent information. 5. The memory may also be adapted to store the amount of credit left or used

6. As detailed above, the device may be adapted to incorporate a triangulation functionality unit that calculates its approximate or exact location with the use of mobile phone reception tower signals

7. Typically, the device incorporates a small printer or thermal image creator (i.e. it scorches the paper of the mailed item to leave an impression. It will be appreciated that this imaging may be achieved using many alternative techniques such as with a laser, or by leaving a mark directly on paper or laser marking a holographic image onto a laser sensitive material that is on all mailed items. Again the methods for recording the information onto the item are wide and varied.

8. The device is typically made of a plastic or other similar material

It will be appreciated that the impression or postal token that has been provided onto the mailed item provides a very useful data set, which may be used at a later date to retrieve information relating to the specific mailed package. By including additional information onto the franked mail parcel it is possible to improve the automation of the mailing system as the recognition of the items detailed on the postal token by suitable software may be adapted to implement a faster automation of the mailing process and also to provide for an improved tracking facility that hereintobefore possible. The tracking of mailed items through the standard postal system (and therefore customer tracking of a mailed item) becomes much more feasible.

It will be appreciated from the discussion made with regard to step 965 that the information provided to the server with regard to the token retrieved by the remote user may be used to process mailed packages efficiently. Once information relating to a specific token is provided to the central server, it may be used to effect the starting or initiation of a timing sequence. The server is adapted to wait for the retrieval of a mailed package having the same identifiers associated therewith that had been previously supplied to the central server. The information encoded on the mailed package is typically in the form of syntax e.g. a bar code, which is readable by software/hardware resident or interfaceable with the central server. This information typically includes information relating to the time and date of creation of the token. This information includes indica that are uniquely associatable with the token in question, and is provided to obviate the possibility of counterfeiting. As the timer has been started, it will be understood that the system is awaiting arrival of the mail parcel in question. It is "aware" that a token has been retrieved for a specific parcel and that the parcel has been franked/stamped. On recognition of parcels passing through the central server or depot, the identifiers on the parcel are checked against those logged previously. If a parcel has identifiers that match those previously stored, then the parcel log is updated to show that the parcel has been received and processed. If it finds that a parcel has a franked token having identifiers that match an already matched identifier set on the central server then the second parcel is rejected, as it is not allowable for two parcels to have the same set of unique identifiers. If a parcel is processed and the identifier set on the parcel do not match a set stored on the server then as the server was not waiting on such a parcel, that mail is also rejected as there is no such logged franking code. This feature of the comparison of identifiers associated with packages to those previously stored for the packages can be used to determine if a mail package has been processed and to track its progress through the system. Furthermore, it will be appreciated that using this information that a user may be informed if a token that has been retrieved from the server or device has not been used on a package within a specific time period- so as to inform the user that the package may have become lost etc..

Figure 10 shows a modification to the logic flow previously described in accordance with a second embodiment of the invention. Again, in this second embodiment a token is provided to a remote user and this token is provided with unique identifiers that are matchable against a set of identifiers stored for that token at a central sever to effect processing of the token.

In this embodiment the remote device 105 operates in a manner more akin to a remote dumb terminal adapted to dispense or store tokens, but most of the processing of the information is done at a central server 110. Again the interaction between the remote device 105 and the central server 110 will be described with reference to the retrieval of a mail or postal token, but it will be appreciated by those skilled in the art that any type of token may be implemented using the methodology of the present invention.

In step 1000 a user interfaces with his device and initiates the process. The user inputs the address of the would-be recipient (Step 1005) . As described previously this may be achieved by a manual input of the specific address fields etc., or may be retrieved from an electronic address book. In step (1010) the device effects a communication link, over a mobile telecommunication network or some other equivalent communication channel so as to request a token for the specific transaction. The central server processes the information relating to the requested token returns a suitable token (Step 1015) . On receipt the remote device is adapted to store the token for later use or to print it immediately (Step 1020) .

Figure 11 shows the processing steps that are typically implemented by the central server on receipt of a request for a token. The central server 110 receives a request from a remote device 105 for a token (Step 1100) . A contact is made to the mobile network 120 associated with the device 105 to determine the location for that device (Step 1105) . This may be achieved using conventional mobile location technology such as obtaining information as to which cell the device is and linking that to a geographical location. On receiving information relating to the cell location, the actual value required for the postage in question is determined (Step 1110) . The mobile network is then contacted again (Step 1115) to determine if the account of the user is sufficient to effect such payment (Step 1120) . This interface with a third party is an authorising step. If the authorisation is not effected, the request for the token is rejected (Step 1125) , whereas if it is authorised the mobile network is billed for the amount of the token (Step 1130) . A set of identifiers uniquely associated with the token in question are then extracted and stored at the central database (Step 1135) . Once stored the token is returned to the remote device (Step 1140).

Figure 12 outlines some of the typical processing steps that are implemented to effect a processing of a token previously retrieved or printed by a remote device. A token is presented at the central server, which in this example is a post office server or sorting office (Step 1200) . Information from the token is extracted from the token (Step 1205) . This information has a set of identifiers uniquely associatable with the token and is checked against previously stored identifiers (Step 1210) . If a matching set is determined then the request for processing is accepted (Step 1225), otherwise it is rejected (Step 1220). The processing of a token effects an updating of all records .

Although the present invention has been described with reference to a mailing system it will be appreciated that this is an exemplary embodiment and the methodology may be implemented for other applications such as but not limited to:

• An official time stamp validity marker. Any and all documents can be verified as having been documented on xxx date by virtue of such a device. Further it may act as a "witness" to an official signing. • A system of electronic ticketing over the internet or mobile network whereby a ticket is requested then printed. The printed ticket will include an indicium (bar-code or some suitable alternative) that will be the verification seal. An example would be airline or bus tickets.

• Parking tokens. In replacement of parking meter coin operated or parking token systems, the receipt or verification of payment at the remote location may be either a printed token using the device or it may be in the form of an electronic memory device located in or on the car. Such an electronic memory device is a simple "SmartCard" that has been "filled" with "token", or an IR memory box placed or mounted on the dash.

• Payment notification and verification systems.

The following example is illustrative of system works in a billing environment where the token is a financial token:

1. Receive a bill for 35 dollars in a restaurant

2. Customer retrieves and prints a token directly on the actual bill.

3. The coded stamped information contains the payer's information, including: a) Who is paying? b) The amount authorised for payment c) The time stamp information. d) What was the time and date of payment? e) Who is being paid? f) The company name and or individual being paid?

4. During, before or after the printing process the payer' s remote device contacts a central database and processes, prepares and stores any and all relevant information.

5. The 35 dollar payment is now "in escrow" and awaiting withdrawal by the service or product provider, in this case the restaurant proprietor. 6. The restaurant clerk takes the bill with applied bar coded (or otherwise) printed information to the register. Places the coded information in a reader (laser reader/scanner or otherwise.) 7. The coded information is transmitted to the same central database.

8. The information is processed, prepared and stored. This is actually the request for payment.

9. The payment is transferred into the appropriate account.

10. Receipts of payment and received funds are logged and are sent to the user's viewing account using technology such as email , SMS or other alternatives as will be appreciated by those skilled in the art.

It will be appreciated that a system implementing a method according to the present invention is very secure because a credit card number is never transmitted only a user's unique identifier number, the amount requested, to whom payment is intended, and time and date. All of these items are encrypted and encoded and the printing of this information onto a bill of some type is also encoded into a bar code system or otherwise. It will be further appreciated that the method is even more secure because the payment request is held in escrow until the payment is requested by the intended receiver. If payment is requested by an inappropriate party it is simply rejected because the payer has not requested such a payment and the database hold no funds in escrow for such a party.

The present method and system offers many advantages over the prior art techniques including the fact that as the prior art techniques utilise a complex equations to code the stamp and the information contained within, as opposed to a verification of the stamp against itself at a central location, i.e. in prior art techniques no information is sent to central location.

Furthermore in applications relating to a postal environment the prior art techniques require all information about sender, receiver or other wise must by manually placed. Using a system according to the present invention an intelligence is provided wherein by utilising the phone number or SIM Card serial number the system of the present invention may be used to determine the identity and location of the remote device. Furthermore as the token typically includes information relating to the sender and the recipient, and the retrieval of such a token effects an update of the central server the central server (postal system) is forewarned as to the expected traffic etc., that will be forthcoming. For example the retrieval of multiple tokens can warn the central system of for example a multiplicity of requests to mail to a certain geographical location within a specific time period. This information may be used to reduce costs due to bulk shipping, and also informs postal shippers to prepare for a larger than normal load. The customer could receive a lower price, etc..

It will be appreciated that a method for processing a token that has been obtained by a remote user has been described. According to the invention each token provided to a remote user includes a set of identifiers uniquely associatable with that token. A copy of the set of identifies are stored at a central server. On presentation of the token for processing, the identifiers on the token are compared to those stored centrally and the token is only processed if a match is effected. Typically the identifiers include at least some identification of the device that was used to store or dispense the token. The identifiers are typically created specifically for each token at the time of request of the token by a remote user. By creating each set of identifiers at the time of creation of the token, and then maintaining a copy of that set at a central server for authentication purposes the method of the present invention is more robust than prior art techniques.

The words "comprises/comprising" and the words "having/including" when used herein with reference to the present invention are used to specify the presence of stated features, integers, steps or components but does not preclude the presence or addition of one or more other features, integers, steps, components or groups thereof.

Claims

Claims
1. A method of processing tokens, the method comprising the steps of: a) providing a token to a remote user, the token have unique identifiers associated therewith, b) maintaining a record in a central datastore of the identifiers associated with each token provided to remote users, c) receiving a request to process a token, and d) processing the token only if the identifiers provided on the token match those identifiers on the equivalent record of identifiers stored in the central datastore.
2. The method as claimed in claim 1 wherein the identifiers include at least one electronic identifier uniquely associatable with the remote user.
3. The method as claimed in any preceding claim wherein the token is provided to the remote user in an electronic form, the electronic form being stored on an electronic device associated with the user.
4. The method as claimed in claim 3 wherein the electronic device is a mobile device such as a mobile telephone or personal digital assistant (PDA).
5. The method as claimed in any preceding claim wherein the token is provided to the remote user using a wireless telecommunication network.
6. The method as claimed in any preceding claim wherein the identifier includes an electronic identifier uniquely associatable with an electronic device associated with the user.
7. The method as claimed claim 6 wherein the identifier is a SIM card identifier associated with the electronic device.
8. The method as claimed in any preceding claim additionally comprising the step of confirming processing of the received token to the remote user once the identifiers associated with the received token have been successfully matched with identifiers stored on the central datastore.
9. The method as claimed in claim 8 comprising the additional step of notifying the remote user that a token has not been processed if a predetermined time elapses between the token being provided to the remote user and that token being presented for processing.
10. The method as claimed in any preceding claim wherein the token is a financially redeemable or value token.
11. The method as claimed in claim 10 wherein the financially redeemable token is a stamp, the value of the token is equivalent to the correct value required to effect a postal delivery of a specific package.
12. The method as claimed in any preceding claim wherein the step of processing the token includes the steps of: a) receiving a token for processing, b) examining the token to extract a set of identifiers uniquely associated with the token, c) comparing the extracted set to the previously stored identifiers so as to determine if the token is an authentic token, and d) processing the token on determination that the extracted set of identifiers matches the previously stored identifiers.
13. The method as claimed in any preceding claim wherein the step of providing a token to a remote user includes the steps of: a) receiving a request for a specific token from the remote user, b) confirming that the remote user is authorised to effect such a request, c) on confirmation that the user is authorised to effect such a request storing a set of identifiers uniquely associatable with the requested token, and d) forwarding the requested token to the user.
14. The method as claimed in claim 13 wherein the step of confirming that the remote user is authorised to effect such a request includes the steps of: a) determining a cost for the requested token, and b) ascertaining whether an account associated with that remote user is suitable to effect such payment .
15. The method as claimed in claim 14 wherein the step of ascertaining whether an account associated with that remote user is suitable to effect such payment includes the steps of: a) effecting a communication link to a third party associated with the remote user, b) providing the third party with details of the cost associated with the requested token, c) receiving an authorisation from the third party to proceed with forwarding the requested token to the remote user, and d) effecting a decrementation of an account associated with the remote user.
16. The method as claimed in claim 15 wherein the account associated with the remote user is an account with the third party which has authorised the transaction.
17. The method as claimed in claim 16 wherein the user's third party stored account is a billing account for that user for a mobile network.
18. The method as claimed in any one of claims 13 to 17 wherein when used for providing stamps or postal tokens the method is desirably adapted to include the additional step of calculating the correct postal rate for the token in question, the calculation being effected using the steps of: a) receiving with the request for a postal token, an indication as to the particular type of package to which the stamp is to be applied and the destination which it is desired to send the package, b) effecting an estimate of the location of the remote user, c) calculating the correct postal rate for a user having that estimated location to send the particular package, d) forwarding a postal token to the user, the value of the postal token forwarded being determined by the correct postal rate calculated for that package .
19. The method as claimed in claim 18 wherein the steps of effecting an estimate of the location of the remote user is effected by the steps of: a) interfacing with a mobile network associated with the remote user so as to determine the current cell which the remote user is located in, and b) using the information pertaining to the current cell to determine the geographical area within which the remote user is located.
20. The method as claimed in any one of claim 1 to 12 wherein the step of providing a token to a remote user comprises the steps of: a) providing the user with an electronic device, the electronic device adapted to store or generate a plurality of tokens on demand for that user, the device being further adapted such that on providing the user with a desired token a communication link is established with a central server and identifiers associated with the provided token are sent to the central server where they are stored for subsequent processing of the token.
21. The method as claimed in claim 20 wherein the device is further adapted to estimate a present location for the device, the estimation of the present location being effected by the following steps: a) effecting a communication link with a telecommunication provider associated with the electronic device and b) interrogating the telecommunication provider so as to determine the current location of the device within the telecommunication network.
22. The method as claimed in claim 21 wherein the device is adapted to estimate a present location for the device by means of a GPS module interfaced with the device .
23. The method as claimed in any one of claims 20 to 22 wherein the tokens received at the remote device may either be stored and presented electronically or alternatively may be printed.
24. An electronic device adapted to dispense tokens to a user, the device comprising: a) means for receiving a request for a token from a user, the request including information pertinent to the value of the token requested, b) means for associating within the token a unique identifier, the identifier being linkable to the device that dispensed the token, and c) means for forwarding information relating to the identifier to a third party, the information relating to the identifier being useable at a later stage for verification of the dispensed token.
25. The device as claimed in claim 24 further including a printing element adapted to print the requested token for the user.
26. The device as claimed in claim 24 or 25 where the device is a mobile telecommunication device, the device having a unique identifier associated therewith so as to identify the device within a mobile telecommunication network and this identifier is typically embedded in the token provided to the user.
PCT/IE2002/000015 2001-02-06 2002-02-06 A method and apparatus for processing a token WO2002063517A2 (en)

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