The chip at 40
Patented in 1974, the smart card has become a major industry by itself in just short of 40 years.
Not a day goes by without us using a smart card to take out cash from an ATM, validate a bus or train journey, consult a doctor or activate a secure badge. And when we do all this, without a second thought, we are using the brilliant invention of Frenchman Roland Moreno - the somewhat off-the-wall, but visionary, inventor of the smart card. His new discovery may have had some acceptance issues in the early 70s, but it is now so widespread that its applications worldwide are truly countless.
But others had gone down the same road earlier. In 1947, a British engineer described a portable memory: a bakelite substrate imprinted with very thin strips of copper which when a strong current was passed through them vaporised irreversibly creating a memory effect. In 1968, Helmut Gröttrup and Jürgen Dethloff, two engineers from the German company Giesecke & Devrient, invented an automated chip card, the patent for which would only finally be granted in 1982. In 1969, three Americans: Halpern, Castrucci and Ellingboe played their part in the birth of portable memory.
It was in 1974 that Roland Moreno filed his patent for the smart card. The innovation was to house the "chip" of an integrated circuit and a low-profile connector that could easily connect to external circuits in a thin plastic card.
On a side note, this self-taught amateur inventor and genius with no formal qualifications was treated as a fraud and was beset by trials and false rumours aimed at discrediting his invention, described by the specialised computer press of the time as a "financial curio".
It would take him eight years of persistence and perseverance to overcome the reservations of men less visionary than he. Bankers in particular doubted the usefulness or infallibility of his invention, whose codename TMR, for "Take the money, and run", paid homage to one of Woody Allen’s first hit films.
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