A postal indicia creation procedure, applies a secret encryption key to information in each authenticated postage request so as to generate a digital signature and combines the information in each authenticated postage request with the corresponding generated digital signature so as to generate a digital postage indicium in accordance with a predefined postage indicium data format. 5,319,562 also presented a proposed postage mark of simple design that expressed the fundamental information required by the USPS--city and state of origin, date of issue, amount of postage and meter number.A communication procedure securely transmits the generated digital postage indicium to the requesting end user computer. 5,319,562, entitled "System and Method for Purchase and Application of Postage Using Personal Computer," describes a cost-effective alternative to the classic mechanical or electromechanical postage metering devices used in the commercial business environment for the past 50 years. The '562 patent also proposed that each mail piece be assigned a unique serial number, and barcode representations of the postage amount and numerical identifiers.

backdating postage-77

A system for electronic distribution of postage includes at least one secure central computer for generating postal indicia in response to postage requests submitted by end user computers, and at least one postal authority computer system for processing the postal indicia on mail pieces.

A key aspect of the system is that all secure processing required for generating postal indicia is performed at secure central computers, not at end user computers, thereby removing the need for specialized secure computational equipment at end user sites.

A secure central computer includes a database of information concerning user accounts of users authorized to request postal indicia from the secure central computer.

A request validation procedure authenticates received postage requests with respect to the user account information in the database.

In addition, conventional meters are required to slightly "emboss" the material on which they print. The barcode contains a host of information, including the meter number and a unique serial number for the mail piece, as taught in U. The indicium encryption signature (and more specifically the associated FIPS-140-level secure hardware required to generate this signature at the user's PC), along with the USPS requirement to have a local CD-ROM subscription containing all USPS ZIP+4 address information, has driven the costs of a PC-based metering system beyond what can be reasonably tolerated by the marketplace.

As a result, it is reasonably difficult to replicate the imprint of a conventional postage meter. The indicium includes all of the information discussed in U. The encryption signature in the proposed USPS IBIP indicium barcode can not prevent counterfeiting by simple duplication, and that fact is recognized by the USPS.

A facsimile of a test mail piece created on a personal computer and mailed by officials of the USPS on Sep. The USPS states that the goal of using the IBIP indicium barcode is to produce an "indicium whose origin cannot be repudiated".

The present invention relates generally to electronic postage metering systems, and particularly to a system and method for securely dispensing postage using telephone and/or network based communication mechanisms. When compared to an estimated 20 million small businesses in the US, it is clear that conventional meters have never achieved the mass penetration that copy machines, FAX machines or PC's have. The added USPS requirements have essentially priced the technology out of the reach of the small PC-based mailer, with monthly costs estimated to be more than a conventional entry-level mechanical or electro-mechanical meter. The present invention also provides the technical means for postal agencies such as the USPS, UK's Royal Mail, or France's La Poste, or the newly-formed Postage Fee-For-Service bureaus, to compete with conventional meter vendors by directly dispensing postage with integral, digitally signed indicia data to end users electronically on a mail piece-by-mail piece basis. If a duplicate meter/serial number combination was detected, the mail piece could easily be intercepted, or at minimum, a graphic image of the mail piece could be captured.

The primary reason is a perceived high (and recurring) cost which outweighs the convenience in the eyes of potential users. This document describes a method of electronically dispensing postage using PC-based system that retains the cost viability of the original PC-based postage application system disclosed in U. The mail piece-by-mail piece disbursement approach has strong parallels to so-called "micro-transactions" or "milli-payments," which are the subject of considerable focus for Internet applications. The ultimate reliance on the aforementioned anti-fraud approach is mandated by the way in which indicia are created in this new venue--using commonly available desktop printers (e.g., with laser, inkjet, or matrix printers) using standard (typically black) inks. The USPS specifications require use of the PDF417 indicium barcode, although other two dimensional barcodes such as the Data Matrix are also under consideration.

In 1996 the US Postal Service published in the Federal Register draft specification for a system (coined the IBIP or Information Based Indicia Program) using the same basic concepts presented in U. In addition to serving end user mailers, the present invention can be used to dispense postage strips at postal agency retail sites (e.g., Post Office counters). This type of mark is very easily replicated (e.g., by a conventional photocopier). The USPS is currently requiring that the barcode contain nearly 500 characters of information.

This technology could replace the expensive, non-IBIP meter strip technology which is currently in use at such locations. In contrast, conventional postage meters produce a phosphor traced, red ink mark. 5,319,562, some in human readable form and some represented in a PDF-417 two dimensional barcode. Some of this data are attributable to an attempt to incorporate letter/parcel tracking information, and part is to accommodate an encryption signature and accompanying public key information which is used in combination to provide a "self-authenticating" feature to the mail piece.