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The success of Wax led to interest from other countries. A US software company, Intelligent Medical Objects, Inc. (Northbrook, Illinois) decided to adopt the system as its preferred method for delivery of medical knowledge relating to HIV and AIDS. This would involve distribution of the browser software to over 300,000 physicians and other carers in the USA, and led immediately to a dilemma.

The owner of the RSA patent, RSA Data Security Inc., insists on a royalty that is a function of the sale price of software incorporating its technology, and which in the case of software distributed for free has a minimum value of $5.00. The Wax project having been funded by charitable money, research grants and volunteer labour, was not in a position to pay $1.5m as the price of entry to the USA.

This compelled the Wax project to revisit the cryptography issue. Another team was put together and we took a look at the design and trust issues. We found that we could achieve the same goals as before, and even more simply, by using one-time signatures instead of RSA. Necessity had truly become the mother of invention.

Fabien A.P. Petitcolas, Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge