WEB VIEW: HELEN ATKINSON BORDERS ARE NOT THE ONLY PROBLEM

WEB VIEW: HELEN ATKINSON BORDERS ARE NOT THE ONLY PROBLEM

Things have been getting a lot more interesting in the area of software and related technology that's designed to facilitate trade across borders - or international trade logistics, as it's being called for now. It seems legal bothers may add to international borders as stumbling blocks for competitor companies.

The number of companies offering a variety of services aimed at U.S. companies that want to trade abroad is getting bigger daily, it seems. The latest entrants, announced in this week's JoC Week, are myCustoms.com, a service-based outfit offering information, documentation and advice; and Tarrific.com (you say it with a French accent), based in Montreal, which focuses more on the pure advantages of a big database of customs and import-export information.The idea is that the Internet, with its ''jeux sans frontier'' business mentality, will drive domestic businesses inexorably towards exporting their products across the globe.

Any company's Web site, the argument goes, is a natural fly trap for international orders and the only thing stopping John Doe Small Parts Inc., Nebraska, from filling these orders is a mere lack of knowledge and experience with pesky details like actual landed cost calculations, Customs regulations and duties.

The companies vying to provide hand-holding services of varying kinds for this nascent trade include the above-mentioned companies, Vastera, NextLinx, ClearCross (formerly Syntra), From2.com, TradeCompass and others not yet on my radar screen, no doubt.

But now, there's not just competition to worry about. Even before these companies really start to see the expected swell of new ITL, there's trouble on the horizon from DE Technologies, a Union Hall, Va.-based software company with a product called Borderless Order Entry System. The company says it has been given a Notice of Allowance from the U.S. patent office which means it will soon have an enforceable, broad patent over international trade logistics electronic services.

The patent has not yet been published, and is therefore not public. Neither does it have a patent number and DE Technologies' managing partner, Ed Pool, refuses to give out a file number, so it's impossible to check it out with the US Patent Office. Those wanting to check out the validity of DE Technologies sweeping claims, can read the patent claims and specifications at http://www.detechnologies.com/services.htm, clicking on the hyperlinks marked at the bottom of the paragraph titled: ''Internet and Intranet Order Entry Pioneers.''

In any case, DE Technologies claims that ''the scope of the patent encompasses all international e-commerce transactions whether B2B or B2C,'' (business-to-business or business-to-consumer).

DE Technologies' legal counsel, Bruce Lagerman, says the company wants to ''work with'' competitors who the company believes are infringing on their copyright rather than shut them down, and that they are already in talks with Vastera and ClearCross, as well as the ITL divisions of IBM Global Trade Services Group, UPS, FedEx and DHL.

ClearCross refused to comment, saying it didn't speculate about legal action that hadn't yet happened. Vastera said it was investigating and would have no further comment until the investigation was completed. NextLinx was unable to confirm Thursday whether it was in discussions with DE Technologies or not.

Pool hinted in a telephone interview that the existing ITL operators would find the patent a source of difficulty.

''Some people are happy about it and some aren't,'' he warned. ''If you want an E-commerce standard, then you're happy about it, but if you want to go it alone, then you're not happy.''

Lagerman mentioned DE's designs on a contract currently out to tender from the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service, who want a company to provide automated transactions. The company may work with Andersen Consulting on the project, he said.

Meanwhile, an inevitable question-mark hangs over the idea that any one company can legally claim to have first dibs on online trade-related transactions.