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1. (WO2000004515) A METHOD AND APPARATUS FOR FACILITATING BUSINESS TRANSACTIONS BETWEEN BUYERS NODES AND VENDORS NODES OVER A NETWORK BY PROVIDING A VERIFICATION NODE
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A METHOD AND APPARATUS FOR FACILITATING BUSINESS
TRANSACTIONS BETWEEN BUYERS NODES AND VENDORS NODES OVER

A NETWORK BY PROVIDING A VERIFICATION NODE

FIELD OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates generally to the electronic commerce, and more specifically to facilitating business transactions between buyers and sellers over a computer network, such as the Internet.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
With the rapid development of information technology and networking infrastructure, more and more business transactions are being conducted electronically over a computer network, such as the Internet. Using the Internet to conduct business transactions is so popular that it is now publically known as electronic commerce. Specifically, a vendor (or seller) can set up a web site over the computer network (or the Internet) for storing the information about its goods (or services). The web site has a unique domain name and an IP (Internet

Protocol) address, and stores the information about the goods (or services) in a set of web page files, such as HTML, SHTML, DHTML, or CGI files (Note: HTML stands for Hypertext Mark Language, SHTML for Secure HTML, DHTML for Dynamic HTML, and CGI for Common Gate Interface). A web page file may contain one or more page links containing the path information to other web page files. Thus, using a web browser, a buyer can get access to a home page file (the page file at the root level) of a web site. From the home page, the buyer can browse subsequent web page files by selecting links contained in the home page file. The subsequent web page files may further contain one or more page links, which can be further selected to browse web page files at a next level. At any level (except at the root level), a browser can browse back to the previous web page file and re-select page links from the previous web page file. Thus, using a browser, a buyer can navigate through web page files contained in a web site, find the information about the goods (or services) of interest, select an item of the goods (a service), and place an order for the selected item (or the selected service).
The current Internet technology readily enables vendors (or sellers) to set up web sites, which can be conveniently accessed by millions of buyers twenty four hours a day throughout the globe. Thus, it is fair to predict that the electronic commerce has great potential to promote transactions between vendors and buyers.
Unfortunately, in the current electronic commerce environment, it is very difficult for buyers to know the true identity and reliability of vendors. Due to the relatively low cost and readily available technical support, many vendors having relatively short business histories and less known business reputations can easily enter electronic commerce. Buyers can be located geographically far away from the vendors, thus increasing the difficulty for a buyer to know a local vendor. For example, a buyer may be located in San Francisco while a vendor may be located in Hong Kong. Further, for a less known vendor, its primary identification is the domain name assigned to its web site. However, the domain name can be easily be removed or changed.
As a result, many fraudulent transactions have occurred in the electronic commerce environment. Some buyers may never receive the goods or services ordered, or only receive defective goods or substandard services. Consequently, the uncertainty about vendors' identity and reliability becomes a bottleneck to conducting transactions in the electronic commerce environment.

There is, therefore, a need for an improved method and apparatus to facilitate transactions over a computer network between buyers and sellers.
There is also the need for a method and apparatus to verify sellers identity and reliability in the transactions over the computer network.
There is yet another need for a method and apparatus to guarantee the satisfaction of the transactions over the computer network between the buyers and sellers.
The present invention provides the methods and apparatus to meet these needs.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
Presently, in conducting transactions over the Internet, a buyer may be not certain about a seller's identity and reliability. To address the shortcomings of the prior art, the present invention provides improved methods to facilitate
transactions over the Internet between buyer nodes and seller nodes by providing a verification node to verify and/or guarantee the transactions.
In one aspect, the present invention provides a method for conducting a transaction between a buyer node and a vendor node over a network. The method comprises the steps of:
(a) at the buyer node, sending a transaction request, via the network to the vendor node, for initiating a transaction between the buyer node and the vendor node;
(b) at the vendor node, upon receiving the transaction request, sending a responding message via the network to the buyer node, the responding message including identification information for identifying a verification node;
(c) at the buyer node, upon receiving the identification information, sending a verification request via the network to the verification node;

(d) at the verification node, upon receiving the verification request, sending a verification message via the network to the buyer node, to verify and/or guarantee the transaction; and
(e) at the buyer node, upon receiving the verification message, completing the transaction between the buyer node and the vendor node.

In another aspect, the present invention provides a method for facilitating a transaction over a network between a buyer node and a vendor node. The method performs at a verification node the steps of:
(a) creating a database for storing verification information for a plurality of vendor nodes to be verified by the verification node;
(b) from the buyer node via the network, receiving a verification request for verifying the transaction between the buyer node and the vendor node, the transaction message including identification information for identifying the vendor node;
(c) comparing the received identification information against the verification information stored in the database; and
(d) sending a verification message, via the network to the buyer node, to verify and/or guarantee the transaction.

In still another aspect, the present invention provides a method for conducting transactions over a network between a buyer node and a vendor node with a verification from a verification node. The method performs at a vendor node the steps of:
(a) receiving from the buyer node a transaction request for initiating a transaction between the buyer node and the vendor node;

(b) upon receiving the transaction request, sending a responding message via the network to the buyer node, wherein the responding message contains information about a verification node that can verify and/or guarantee the transaction for the vendor node, and wherein the responding message further contains a network identification so that the buyer node can communicate with the verification node via the network to obtain verification and/or guarantee for the transaction from the verification node; and
(c) after completion of the verification by the verification node, completing the transaction initiated by the buyer node.

The present invention also provides the apparatus for implementing the corresponding methods as recited above.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWING
The aforementioned advantages of the present invention as well as additional advantages thereof will be more clearly understood hereinafter as a result of a detailed description of a preferred embodiment of the invention when taken in conjunction with the following drawings in which:

Figure 1 shows an exemplary network system 100, which can be used to perform the functions of the present invention;
Figure 2 shows a transaction page file sent to a buyer node from a vendor node, in accordance with the present invention;
Figure 3 shows a verification page file sent to a buyer node from a verification node, in accordance with the present invention;
Figure 4 shows a confirmation page file sent to a buyer node from a verification node, in accordance with the present invention;

Figure 5 shows a flowchart illustrating the steps of conducting a transaction between a buyer node and a vendor node, in accordance with the present invention; and
Figure 6 shows a block diagram illustrating an exemplary computer system, which can be used to implement the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS
The present invention comprises a novel method for facilitating
transactions over a computer network, such as the Internet, between buyer nodes and vendor nodes by providing a verification node. Referring figure 1 , there is shown an exemplary network system 100, which is able to perform the functions of the present invention.
As shown in figure 1 , the network system 100 includes a plurality of user computers (i.e. buyer nodes) 102.1 , 102.2 and 102. n; a plurality of vendor web sites (i.e. vendor nodes) 104.1 , 104.2, .... and 104. m; a verification center (i.e. verification node) 106; and a wide area network 108 (such as the Internet). The user computers, vendor web sites, and verification center are all coupled to the network 108.
Each of the vendor web sites (104.1 , 104.2, ..., and 104.m) includes a respective server (114.1 , 114.2, ..., or 114. m) for processing service requests received; a respective web page repository (124.1 , 124.2, ..., or 124.m) for storing a plurality of page files, such as HTML, SHTML, DHTML, or CGI files; and a respective applet repository (134.1 , 134.2, ..., or 134.m) for storing a transaction verification applet. A unique domain name and an IP (Internet Protocol) address are assigned to each of the vendor web sites. Each of the page files stored in a vendor web site contains the information about the goods (or services) provided by a vendor web site, and may further contain links to other page files that are stored either in the same vendor web site or in other web sites.
Each of the user computers (102.1 , 102.2, ..., or 102.n) has a display screen (122.1 , 122.2, ..., or 122.n) and a keyboard (132.1 , 132.2 or 132.n), and runs a respective browser (112.1 , 112.2, ..., or 112.n). A unique IP address is assigned to each of the user computers. Each of the browsers (112.1 , 112.2, ..., and 112.n) is able to retrieve page files from any web sites that are connected to the network 108 and display the retrieved page files in a web page format.
To retrieve a page file from a web site, a browser sends to the web site a service request; which includes a URL (Universal Resource Locator), the IP address assigned to the web site, and the IP address assigned to the user computer in which the browser is run. The URL contains the path information to the page file to be retrieved. Upon receiving the service request, the server for the web site locates the respective page file based on the URL, and sends the located page file to the browser based on the IP address assigned to the user computer on which the browser is run. Upon receiving the page file, the browser displays it on a computer screen, typically in a web page format.
If the retrieved page file contains a link to a page file at the next level, in response to selecting (i.e. clicking) the link, the browser sends a service request to the web site that stores the page file. Upon receiving the page file from the web site, the browser displays the page file in a web page format. Using links embedded in the retrieved page files, the browser can navigate from an upper level page file to a lower level page file. Also, in response to a selection of a "back" button (or an equivalent function control) on the browser GUI (Graphical User Interface), the browser is able to navigate from a lower level page file ( the page file that is being currently displayed) back to the higher level page file (the page file previously displayed), so that a new link can be selected from the previously displayed page file. Thus, using the links on the page files, the browser can navigate through all the page files stored in one or more web sites connected to the network 108.
Each of the page files contained in a vendor web site contains an order icon, which is associated with a link to a transaction page file and a verification applet stored in the web site 104.1. A buyer can initiate a transaction by selecting the order icon.
The verification center 106 includes a server 116 for processing service requests received, a verification database 126 for storing the information about the vendor nodes to be verified, a page repository 136 for storing page files containing the information to be provided to buyer nodes, and a transaction database 146 for storing the verified transactions. Specifically, for each of the vendor nodes (i.e. vendors) to be verified, the verification database 126 stores the information including: the ID (identification) and the security codes assigned to the vendor, financial quality of the vendor, guarantee terms for the vendor, and the specific goods (or services) to be verified for the vendor. To get the verification service from the verification center 106 (i.e. the guarantor), a vendor may be required to pay a fee and provide relevant information, such as its domain name, IP address, physical location, financial quality, credit history, and business license. Upon approval, the guarantor assigns an ID, a section of security, and an encryption key to the vendor. The information provided by the vendor is stored in the verification database 126.
Referring to figure 2, there is shown a transaction page file 200 sent to a buyer node (a buyer) by a vendor node (a vendor), in accordance with the present invention.
In describing the embodiment shown in figure 2, it is assumed that (1) the transaction page file 200 is stored in the page repository 124.1 located in the web site 104.1 and (2) in using the user computer 102.1 , a buyer has been browsing through the page files from the web site 104.1. Having decided to place an order for an item of goods or a service displayed on a page file, the user selects (or clicks) the order icon on that page file. In response to the selection, browser 112.1 sends a service request to web site 104. . Upon receiving the service request, the server 114.1 retrieves the transaction page file 200 and sends it to browser 112.1. Upon receiving the transaction page file 200, the browser 112.1 display the page file on the screen 122.1.
As shown in figure 2, the transaction page file 200 contains a transaction information region 202 for displaying information about the goods (or services) to be selected, a guarantor region 204 for displaying the information about the guarantor, and an order region 208 for displaying data entries to be completed by the buyer. The transaction information region 202 contains the vendor's name (XYZ Company), the guarantor region 204 contains the guarantor's name (ABC Company), and the order region 208 contains the entries for allowing a buyer to input a payment method (such as a credit card number). The guarantor region 204 further contains a link icon 206 to link a verification page file stored in the verification center 106 and a verification applet stored in the applet repository 134.1.
After completing the data entries in the order region 208, the buyer selects

(or clicks) the link icon 206, to request a verification and a guarantee of the transaction being conducted. In response to the selection, browser 112.1 downloads the verification applet from applet repository 134.1 and executes the applet. Using an encryption key assigned by the verification center 106, the verification applet encrypts the ID and security code assigned to the vendor node

104.1. The browser 112.1 then sends a service request, together with the encrypted ID and security codes and the transaction information contained in the order region 208, to the verification center 106. Upon receiving the request, the verification center 106 decrypts the ID and security codes, and verifies the decrypted ID and security codes and the transaction information against the information about the vendor stored in the verification database 126. Based on the verification, the verification center 106 then forms a verification page file and sends it to the browser 102.1.
Referring to figure 3, there is shown a verification page file 300 sent to a buyer node by the verification center 106, in accordance with the present invention.
In describing figure 3, it is assumed that the verification center 106 has received the service request generated by selecting (or clicking) the link icon 206, as described in connection with figure 2. Upon receiving the service request, the verification center 106 forms the verification page file 300 and sends it to the browser 102.1.
As shown in figure 3, the verification page file 300 contains a guarantor information region 302 for displaying the information about the guarantor, a vendor information region 304 for displaying the information about the vendor, and a guaranty term region 306 for displaying the guaranty terms for the transaction being conducted between the buyer node and the vendor node.
Referring to figure 4, there is shown a confirmation page file 400 sent to a buyer node by the verification center 106, in accordance with the present invention.
In describing figure 4, it is assumed that a buyer has selected the submission button 210 as described in connection with figure 2. In response to the selection, the browser 112.1 executes the verification applet downloaded from the web site 104.1 and sends service a request, together with the information contained in the order region 208, to the verification center 106. Upon receiving the service request, the verification center 106 forms the confirmation page file 400 and sends it to the browser 112.1.
As shown in figure 4, the confirmation page file 400 contains the
confirmation information about the transaction completed between the buyer node and the vendor node. Specifically, the information contained in the confirmation page file 400 includes the name of the item (or service) ordered, the name of the vendor, the price of the order, the data of the transaction, and the guaranteed terms.
Referring to figure 5, there is shown a flowchart illustrating the steps of conducting a transaction between a buyer node and a vendor node over the network system 100, in accordance with the present invention. In describing the steps in figure 5, it is assumed that a buyer is using user computer 122.1 to conduct a transaction with web site 104.1.
As shown in figure 5, at step 502, using the browser 102.1 , the buyer browses the page files stored in the web site 104.1. As described above, each of the page files contains an order icon, which is associated with a link to a transaction page file and a verification applet stored in the web site 104.1.
At step 504, to place an order displayed on one of the page files, the buyer selects the order icon displayed on the page file.
At step 506, in response to the selection, the browser 104.1 sends a service request to web site 112.1.
At step 508, upon receiving the service request, the server 114.1 sends a transaction page file (as shown in figure 2) and the verification applet to the browser 104.1.
At step 510, the browser 104.1 displays the transaction page file in a first instance window.

At step 512, after completing the data entries in the order region 208, the buyer selects the link icon 206.
At step 514, in response to a selection, the browser 112.1 downloads the verification applet from the applet repository 134.1 and executes the applet to encrypt ID and security codes assigned to the web site 104.1 using an encryption key assigned by the verification center 106. The browser 112.1 then sends a service request, together with the encrypted ID and security codes and the information contained in the order region 208 on the transaction page 200, to the verification center 106.
At step 516, upon receiving the service request generated at step 514, based on the vendor information stored in the verification database 126, the verification center 106 decrypts the encrypted ID and security codes using a decryption key, authenticates the ID and security codes, examines the transaction information contained in the order region 208, forms a verification page file (as shown in figure 3) accordingly, and sends the verification page file to the browser

112.1.
At step 518, upon receiving the verification page file generated at step 516, the browser 112.1 displays it within a second instance window, so that the buyer can see the transaction page file and the verification page file in the first and second instance windows at the same time.
As described above in connection with figure 3, the verification page file has three regions 302, 304 and 306. The guarantor information region 302 displays the information about the guarantor. Typically, the guarantor has a well recognized reputation. The guarantor also has the financial resource and business expertise to analyze vendors financial quality and business reliability.

The vendor information region 304 displays the verification information about the vendor. And the guaranty term region 306 displays the information about the guaranty terms.
If at the step 516, the verification center 106 is not able to authenticate the ID and security codes of the vendor node 106, the vendor information region 304 displays the message to the effect that it cannot verify the vendor node and does not guarantee this transaction.
If at step 516, the verification center 106 has authenticated the ID and security codes of the vendor node 104.1 , the vendor information region 304 displays information about the vendor node 104.1 , and the guaranty term region 306 displays the guaranty terms for the transaction. The guaranty terms may specify that the guarantor will reimburse the payment to his transaction, if the buyer informs the guarantor, under certain conditions within a period of time, that buyer is not satisfied with the transaction.
At step 520, having satisfied the verification and the guarantee terms, the buyer selects the submit button 210 on the transaction page file 200.
At step 522, the browser 112.1 executes the verification applet to encrypt the ID and security codes assigned to the web site 104.1 and sends a service request, together with the information contained in the order region 208, to the verification center 106 to complete the transaction
At step 524, the veπfication center 106 forms a verification page file (as shown in figure 4), stores the verification file into the transaction database 146 as a record, and sends the verification page file to the browser 112.1.
At step 526, the browser 112.1 displays the verification page file in the second instance window, so that the buyer can store and print out the verification page file as a record.
At step 528, the browser 112.1 sends the information contained in the order region 208 to the vendor web site 104.1.

Referring to figure 6, there is shown a block diagram illustrating an exemplary computer system 600, which can be used as a hardware platform for a user computer (102.1 , 102.2, ..., or 102n), a vendor web site (104.1 , 104.2 or

104.m), or the verification center 106.
As shown in figure 6, the computer system 600 includes a system bus 601 , a processing unit 602, a memory device 604, a disk drive interface 606, a hard disk 608, a display interface 610, a display monitor 612, a serial bus interface 614, a mouse 616, a keyboard 618, and a network communication interface 620.
The hard disk 608 is coupled to the disk drive interface 606; the monitor display 612 is coupled to the display interface 610; and the mouse 616 and keyboard 618 are coupled to the serial bus interface 614. Coupled to the system bus 601 are the processing unit 602, the memory device 604, the disk drive interface 606, the display interface 610, and the network communication interface 620.
Memory device 604 stores data and programs. Operating together with the disk drive interface 606, the hard disk 608 also stores data and programs.
However, memory device 604 has faster access speed than hard disk 608, while the hard disk 608 has higher capacity than memory device 604.
Operating together with the display interface 610, the display monitor 612 provides visual interfaces between the programs being executed and users, and displays the outputs generated by the programs.
Operating together with the serial bus interface 614, the mouse 616 and keyboard 618 provide inputs to the computer system 600.
The network communication interface 620 provides an interface between the computer system 600 and the network 108 in accordance with predetermined networking protocols.

The processing unit 602, which may include more than one processor, controls the operations of the computer system 600 by executing the programs stored in the memory device 604 and hard disk 608. The processing unit also controls the transmissions of data and programs between the memory device 604 and the hard disk 608.
In the present invention, the programs for performing the steps shown in figure 5 can be stored in memory device 604 or hard disk 608, and executed by the processing unit 602.
It should be noted that the embodiments have been described under an assumption that the transaction is conducted between the user computer 102.1 and the vendor web site 104.1. However, the principle described may apply to any user computers and vendor web sites that are connected to the network 108.

While the invention has been illustrated and described in detail in the drawing and foregoing description, it should be understood that the invention may be implemented through alternative embodiments within the spirit of the present invention. Thus, the scope of the invention is not intended to be limited to the illustration and description in this specification, but is to be defined by the appended claims.