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Gentag, which bills itself as an IP development company, announced Dec. 28 that it has been issued a patent for a way to add sensor networks to RFID readers in wireless devices such as cell phones, PDAs and laptops.

The RFID Based Sensor Networks patent, numbered 7148804, provides the basis for the creation of RFID (radio-frequency identification) sensor networks for consumer, industrial and government applications, Gentag officials said.

The technology piggybacks on technology created by the Near Field Communication Forum to enable short-range wireless connectivity. The NFC consortium includes IT industry stalwarts Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Nokia, MasterCard, NXP Semiconductors (founded by Philips), Sony Corp. of America, Panasonic Corp. of North America, Texas Instruments, NEC, Renesas Technology and Visa International Service Association.

The goal of the consortium, which outlined an architecture for NFC technology in June, is to develop standards-based specifications for NFC devices and protocol that will, for example, enable consumers to pay for goods using their cell phones (credit card information would be embedded in the cell phone) and use wireless RFID technology to connect to merchant and banking applications.

Gentag’s patent, which looks to build on the work already done by NFC, is co-owned by Altivera, a Gentag subsidiary, and Symbol Technologies, which was recently acquired by Motorola.

According to John Peeters, Gentag’s founder and president, cell phones with RFID readers are currently either already available or are under development by major cell phone manufacturers worldwide for both the 13.56 and UHF [Ultra-High Frequency] Gen 2 frequencies. But it’s the emergence of near-field communications that will accentuate the importance of Gentag’s patent.

“Nokia already has an HF RFID reader on the market and the Koreans are starting to release the UHF cell phone,” said Peeters, in Washington. “I anticipate [that from] mid-2007 to the latter part of the year our technology is going to start being used pretty broadly.”

Click here to read about what’s in store for RFID technology in 2007.

The idea behind the patent is that by combining RFID cell phones and RFID sensors with cellular networks or the Internet, consumers will be able to read any RFID sensor tag for almost any application. “We’ve basically created technology that allows cell phones to read an RFID tag and then tell the cell phone what it is, so the cell phone can read all these different technologies transparently,” Peeters said. “That’s important. [It’s] a system where information can be in a [Gentag] database that’s downloaded to a cell phone. You’ve seen Google [applications] that [tap] into all these master databases —you don’t know that all this information just comes back to you. We’re saying RFID phones are going to be active in the same way.”

But putting a reader into the hands of anyone with a cell phone also brings up the possibility of security or privacy breaches—terrorists reading the information embedded in RFID-chipped electronic passports, for example. According to Gentag’s Peeters, given the range of read capabilities in the cell phones—a couple of inches with HF (high-frequency) and a couple of feet with UHF—privacy should not be an issue.

“Cell phones are very good applications for [the technology in terms of] privacy. The read range is not very large,” Peeters said. “[Also] the e-passports have an encryption technology in them, so we don’t anticipate that the common cell phone would be able to read them.”

Gentag is focusing on specialized diagnostic applications for its RFID reader patent, including a technology it has in development: disposable diagnostic wireless skin patches. The company currently holds “smart skin patch” patents for RFID glucose monitoring, cardiac monitoring, UV monitoring and a biomarker skin test patch.

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