Apple Bites into E-Signature Adoption

Mary Ellen Power, October 9, 2013

AppleRecently, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted 36 patents to Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL).  According to International Business Times, many are patents based on older technology but there is one that jumped out at us. Apple is working on a digital signature application that allows an author or artist to digitally autograph a fan's ebook or other digital media, potentially increasing e-signature adoption. According to Dr. Wendy Fonarow, author of Empire of Dirt (an anthropologist's view of the music industry), "An autograph gives people who feel intimate with celebrities something tangible to possess -- a personal touch." We’re not convinced a pixilated signature is going to provide fans the same warm fuzzies and increase e-signature adoption. An electronic signature affixed to a document using digital signature technology may not offer much in terms of sentiment, but it packs a punch when it comes to ironclad auditability and security. The term digital signature often causes confusion these days as more and more companies move their processes online by adding "e-signatures". The term "digital signature" refers to the encryption/decryption technology used as the foundation for a variety of security, e-business and e-commerce products. Based on public/private key cryptography, digital signatures are used in secure messaging, public key infrastructure (PKI), virtual private networks (VPN), secure socket layers and electronic signatures. An electronic signature, like its paper equivalent, is a legal concept. The U.S. Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (E-SIGN) defines an electronic signature as "an electronic sound, symbol, or process attached to, or associated with, a contract or other record and adopted by a person with the intent to sign a record." In short, you want an ELECTRONIC signature application that is built on DIGITAL signature security. To make an e-signature ironclad, there needs to be three levels of security included in the solution:

  1. User authentication -Verification can be made through traditional login or password, secret question and answer, SMS code or a third-party authentication service.
  2. Document authentication - Documents must include a way to digitally sign and encrypt the e-signed document to produce a tamper-evident seal. Any attempt to make an unauthorized change after the fact marks the document as invalid.
  3. Process evidence - The goal of process evidence is to prove what took place throughout the progression of the signing workflow. This is accomplished by gathering electronic evidence such as web pages, documents, disclosures or pop-up windows that were displayed; emails or SMS messages sent; any voice or image capture; IP addresses and the time and date of each event.

An ironclad e-signature solution leverages digital signature technology to create tamper-evident documents. When this audit trail information is combined with process evidence captured, it creates a powerful record of electronic evidence that clearly demonstrates the signer understood and accepted contract conditions at the time of e-signing, should any document ever be challenged in a court of law. It remains to be seen if collectors will leverage Apple's e-signature adoption and warm up to a digital autograph. At first blush, it seems anything but intimate. But for business matters, where meeting legal and compliance requirements are paramount, electronic signatures (with or without the image of a digitally captured handwritten signature) have become the "John Hancock" of choice.