The invention of the smart card (1974)

In 1974, Roland moreno invents the device that will change the course of his life and that of millions of people: the Smartcard. It then finds many other applications: the SIM card used in cell phones, the Vitale card, the Moneo card, building access badges or even prepaid service subscription cards such as the telephone card or tickets.

The patent

Roland Moreno's invention - the smart card - is a 1mm thick plastic rectangle that carries an integrated circuit capable of securely storing a series of information. It brings together a microprocessor, a read only memory (or ROM), a storage memory and a random access memory of a variable size according to the sum and the complexity of the information that it will contain. This integrated circuit is wrongly called a chip, because the latter is actually located below and is "hidden". Before being put into circulation, the card
is encoded in order to enter the user's personal information in the chip. The first patent was filed on March 25, 1974 and describes "a portable memory object claiming inhibitory means" (ensuring data protection) associated with "a comparator with an error comparator" (a combination typically used for the use of the secret code associated with the card).

An atypical inventor

The inventor is part of the "originals", closer to a "Geo Trouvetout" than to a Steve Jobs. Born June 11, 1945, in Cairo, Roland Moreno was passionate about electronics very early on. He passed his baccalaureate, dropped out of college and then did a multitude of odd jobs: butcher, advertising designer, flyer distributor, office worker, toboggan maker, journalist-reporter at Detective, errand boy at L'Express, columnist, columnist ... In short, he's a self-taught jack of all trades. He keeps inventing all along
new machines more or less delusional in his life. Among his findings, we can cite the doter (which allows to create new words in an algorithmic way), the pianok (pocket piano) or even the matapof (coin tossing machine).

In March 1972, he created the Innovatron association and then, in July, a company of the same name “to sell ideas”. From 1975, the latter marketed brand or product names. He is also the author of a book, La Théorie du bordel ambiant, in which he shares all of his thoughts on the world.

Forty-five patents

The industrial protection of its chip card will be extended by the filing of several certificates of addition and patents - such as the error counter, which causes the self-destruction of the chip in the event of repeated submission of a false code - which s 'are based on the basic patent, and by filings in eleven countries. Thanks to this technology, he made a fortune. It brings him 150 million euros, which does not go without triggering controversy. Indeed, if he filed the patent, other inventors claim paternity of the smart card. One of the most vehement was an engineer from the National Center for Telecommunications Studies (CNET) claiming to have his idea stolen in 1973 by the Innovatron association. But despite numerous complaints, his efforts were systematically rejected.

In 2011, the Court of Cassation ruled "that there were not sufficient charges against anyone for having committed the offenses charged, or any other offense". Others give credit for the invention to the Germans Jürgen Dethloff and Helmut Grôttrup, who would have developed it fifteen years earlier. But all these controversies in no way diminish the work of Moreno who, in 1996, received the Eduard Rhein prize, a prestigious German prize, in the technology category. He was even decorated with the Legion of Honor in 2009.

An expanding market

At the end of the 1990s, Roland Moreno's patents relating to the smart card - like the electronic wallet - fell into the public domain, but he remained at the head of his company Innovatron. When he died at the age of 66, on April 29, 2012, of a pulmonary embolism at his home in Paris, he no longer received royalties on smart cards, but still received fees on “free” cards. 'Velib' or Navigo type contacts. Since then, the smart card market has continued to grow. In 2011, 6.3 billion units were produced. Roland Moreno affirmed that his smart card had "a limited number of applications" - the bank, the telephone, the car parks, the television decoders and the health card -, and that beyond, he said to himself "a little skeptical ”. In fact, most of the production (75%) is intended for the telecommunications market (including SIM cards for mobile phones) and 16% for payment (bank cards). The number of smart card payments exceeded that of check payments.

For further

- Theory of ambient brothel, by Roland Moreno. L'Archipel, January 2002.

- The 1001 Inventions That Changed the World, by Jack Challoner. Flammarion, 2010.

Video: Richard Purves - Working with Smart Cards (January 2022).