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* cited by examiner
INTERNET BILLING METHOD
CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED
This application is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/397,204, which was filed on Apr. 4,2006 and now pending, which is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/238,762 filed Sep. 10, 2002 and now abandoned, which is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. 10 No. 09/975,839 filed Oct. 11, 2001 now U.S. Pat. No. 6,976, 008 B2, which is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/568,925 filed May 11, 2000 now U.S. Pat. No. 6,351, 739, which is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. 15 No. 09/057,230 filed Apr. 8, 1998 now U.S. Pat. No. 6,188, 994, which is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 08/499,535 filed Jul. 7, 1995 now U.S. Pat. No. 5,794, 221. The contents of each of the foregoing U.S. patent applications and issued patents is hereby incorporated by reference 20 into this application as if set forth herein in full.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates to a method of billing for 25 commercial transactions over the Internet.
The Internet is a vast worldwide interconnection of computers and computer networks. The Internet does not consist of any specific hardware or group of connected computers, rather it consists of those elements that happen to be inter- 30 connected at any particular time. The Internet has certain protocols or rules regarding signal transmission and anyone with the proper hardware and software can be part of this interconnection.
At present, the technical and financial requirements for connecting directly to the Internet are beyond the resources of most individuals and thus new businesses known as Internet access providers have proliferated. These providers invest in the equipment needed to provide access to the Internet for 40 subscribers who pay the providers a fee for the access. Providers include companies whose only business is to offer connection to the Internet, as well as on-line services such as Compuserve, American On-Line, and Prodigy. In addition, telephone companies and cable television companies have 45 announced plans to provide Internet access. A party desiring to connect to the Internet by means of a provider typically connects via a modem over a telephone network to the provider's equipment which then connects the party, through the provider's equipment, to the Internet. 50
Although the origin of the Internet was for military use, today the primary users of the Internet are civilian. There is great activity at present attempting to utilize the Internet as a channel of commerce.
Many vendors advertise their products and services over 55 the Internet and solicit orders from Internet users for these wares. While the preferred mode of payment is by credit card, there is great reluctance to transmit credit card account information over the Internet because of lack of security. Moreover, in situations wherein the transaction amount is small— 60 from pennies to a few dollars—it is not economically feasible to use a credit card transaction. There is a need to be able to ensure that commercial transactions over the Internet are at least as secure as conventional transactions over the telephone, through the mails, and with on-line services where 65 credit cards and/or billing accounts are used for purchases. Similarly, there is a need to be able to handle on the Internet
a large number of small-sized transactions, similar to what is done by telephone companies for conventional telephone service.
The lack of security and the lack of a means to bill for small transactions are the biggest obstacles to commercial use of the Internet.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
The main object of the present invention is to create a new business opportunity for telephone companies, cable television companies, existing Internet access providers, and companies offering financial services by creating a way for them to offer to their subscribers a method of securely buying and selling goods and services of any value over the Internet.
Another object of the present invention is an Internet billing method which is cost effective for transactions having transaction amounts ranging from pennies to a few dollars.
Still another object of the present invention is to provide a secure method of billing commercial transactions over the Internet.
A further object of the present invention is an Internet billing method which is simple to use from both the customer's point of view and that of vendors on the Internet.
Yet another object of the present invention is a billing method which can be used by a large number of existing Internet users without requiring major changes in how the users customarily behave and conduct commercial transactions.
These and other objects and advantages of the present invention are achieved by an Internet billing method in accordance with the present invention. A provider establishes an agreement with a customer, and a second agreement with a vendor, wherein the provider agrees with the customer and the vendor to bill for products and services purchased over the Internet by the customer from the vendor. Associated with the customer agreement are one or more billing accounts to which purchases may be charged. Associated with the vendor agreement are one or more methods of remitting funds to the vendor. The provider creates access to the Internet for the customer through the provider's equipment. When the customer orders a product or service over the Internet from the vendor, the provider obtains transactional information transmitted between the customer and the vendor including a transaction amount relating to the ordered product or service and the provider then bills the transaction amount to a customer billing account and remits a portion of the transaction amount to the vendor.
Which accounts are used may be specified in the agreements made between the provider and the customer and between the provider and the vendor, or may be specified in the transactional information. If specified in the transactional information, the selection of account can be made by referencing the type of account (e.g., "VISA", "phone bill"), orthe position of that account on a predetermined list (e.g., "the 3rd account"), and does not require that any actual account numbers be transmitted.
By the use of this method, there is no need for the customer to transmit over the Internet any information containing any of the customer's billing account numbers thereby maintaining the security of that information.
The present invention, in a preferred embodiment, is a method of providing merchants with the ability to offer their customers secure transactions for the purchase of goods and services of any value over the Internet, without the need for the customer to transmit any credit card or other account numbers over the Internet, without the need for the customer