Store Financial Awarded US Patent

Store FinancialStore Financial, Inc., a leading provider of community gift cards and other specialty prepaid card programs, today was issued a U.S. Patent for “Methods and systems for processing, accounting, and administration of stored value cards”. The patent appears to be Store Financial’s first, and continues the trend of prepaid debit card patents.

The patent is U.S. Patent No. 7,797,233 and issued on September 14, 2010. As described in the patent, Store Financial’s patent attempts to solve problems related to using stored value cards at shopping malls and retailers associated with shopping malls. Here’s the problem, as described in the patent specification:

Both shopping malls and merchants within the geography of the mall desire certificates to be replaced with private label, monetary, stored value, gift cards. These gift cards must be issued by a bank or credit union and operate seamlessly across a variety of merchant point of sale machines using the existing debit and credit card networks, such as VISA, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover, typically connected to the existing merchant point of sale machines. The gift card transactions must be limited to merchants within the boundaries defined by the shopping mall or developer who manages multiple malls.

Two types of gift card products, branded and private label, are typically available from the debit and credit card networks. A branded card product where the network logo is placed on the card must be accepted universally at all merchants worldwide. A private label card that utilizes the debit and credit card networks but does not include the logo associated with the network can be limited to a subset of the merchants who accept the card. The private label card services requires a database and profile of the merchants to be created and maintained in order to perform the merchant matching procedures associated with limited use.

Typically, holders of these stored value, gift cards are anonymous in nature. That is, if a card is lost, the finder of the card is able to utilize any remaining funds on the card as if it was his own.

Another problem with the anonymity is that a card holder has difficulty in determining a balance of the stored value remaining on the card. Either the user has to manually track the stored value remaining on the card, or some processors, typically those associated with shopping malls, deploy specialized card reading machines which provide a balance remaining to the user when the card is scanned. However, when the user attempts to utilize the stored value card for a transaction within the shopping mall, for example at a restaurant or a clothing store, and has not previously determined the remaining value on the card, the transaction may be denied for lack of monetary value on the card.

Still another problem is that the individual establishments within the mall typically only have access to one electronic funds transfer system through a point-of-sale (POS) terminal, and the stored value cards are not completely compatible with these electronic fund transfer systems and terminals. The problem for the shopper is that when the transaction is denied, the shopper is only notified of the denial, and is not provided with balance data. In a real world example, if the shopper is attempting to make a $35.00 purchase with a stored value card which has $25.00 of stored value, he or she is typically unable to complete the transaction utilizing $10.00 of cash or perhaps a credit or debit card to make up the difference as a split-tender.

Another desire of merchants and developers is to enable stored-value, gift cards to be reloaded upon the depletion of the funds available through the card. The process of reloading the cards with additional monetary funds must be completed through various mediums such as client terminals located at mall customer service desks, through Internet web services, or through ISO 8583 debit card transactions credit funds to the account of the card holder. In addition, merchants desire loyalty programs to be delivered in association with the reloading of the gift card where merchant monetary dividends would be posted into the account of the card holder. The anticipated result is loyalty created between merchants and consumers and monetary compensation is passed back to the consumer in reward of this merchant loyalty.

Read the whole patent here.

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