Two weeks ago, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), in partnership with Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ), unveiled BizTalk -- a software platform that provides for the scalable development, deployment, and management of RFID (radio-frequency identification) and sensors solutions. Also included in the partnership were a host of other RFID hardware companies, including Alien Technologies, Impinj, Motorola (NYSE:MOT), Printronix (NASDAQ:PTNX) and Zebra Technologies (NASDAQ:ZBRA).

According to RFID Update, Microsoft's entry into the RFID field was a "watershed moment" because it was purported to lower the cost of implementing an RFID software solution by "a factor of ten." By reducing the price to the neighborhood of $5,000, it is now expected that a number of smaller and medium-sized businesses will now be receptive to implementing the technology.

Not to be outdone by Microsoft, IBM (NYSE:IBM) yesterday called for the use of open standards in RFID solutions. Interestingly, IBM is also working with many of the same hardware providers as Microsoft.

It is too soon to determine whether Microsoft's software or an open-source movement will ultimately prevail in the RFID arena. But it's becoming increasingly clear that, after years of hype, RFID technology is moving into the mainstream. This is great news for RFID hardware providers, because improved software will make these companies' technologies that much more accessible and useful for their customers.

According to Dan Mullen, president of AIM Global, a trade association representing the automatic identification industry, investors might soon be seeing more real-world uses of RFID technology in hospitals, airports (for tracking baggage), and possibly even in the area of digital cash. (Think of using your cell phone to pay for a bag of chips at your local convenience store).

Foolish investors are strongly encouraged to begin monitoring this space, because investing in the right RFID company or companies could help you detect a noticeable increase in your portfolio in the years ahead.

Interested in reading more about RFID-related Foolishness? Check out these articles:

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Fool contributor Jack Uldrich owns stock in IBM, Intel, and Microsoft. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.