Patent rights exist in outer space, too: TRW Inc., Redondo Beach, Calif., is suing ICO Global Communications for infringing on its patent for a satellite-based personal communications system. The patent, awarded to TRW in 1995, is for a constellation of satellites in medium-Earth orbit. TRW is the system contractor for Odyssey, a $3 billion worldwide satellite cellular telephone system. ICO is a subsidiary of Inmarsat, a London-based satellite company.

Martin Coyle, TRW vice president and general counsel, said his company intends to assert intellectual property rights through the lawsuit, filed May 10.

Credit cards preferred over digital cash: Credit cards will remain the payment option of choice for purchases over the World Wide Web, according to a new study by Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass. The report looks at the use of electronic checks, virtual smart cards and digital cash. Of the 50 on-line retailers and content providers interviewed, 84 percent now take payments over the Internet. Most of those purchases are made with credit cards.

Debit-based options will be unpopular, said the report, because consumers will worry their bank accounts will be emptied. Security standards will have to be extremely high. Digital cash, Forrester reports, will be least popular because of its unfamiliarity. And, although digital cash offers anonymity, 70 percent of the merchants said that's not important. Because people are already familiar with using credit cards, that method will be the winner, the study predicted.

Motorola allies with Chinese businesses: Motorola Inc., Schaumburg, Ill., has formed a joint venture with China Posts and Telecommunications Industry Corp. and Hangzhou Communication Equipment Factory to form a cellular infrastructure. It's the largest partnership in China's cellular history.

Nortel to buy MICOM: Northern Telecom (Nortel) said it plans to buy MICOM Communications Corp. for $150 million. MICOM, Simi Valley, Calif., is a frame relay and integrated networking company. The deal still needs approved under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act. Jean C. Monty, president of Nortel, said the acquisition will complement the telco's multimedia network business.

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