E-signatures for 30 million laptops

Touchpad maker Synaptics will bundle digital signature software with its newest products and make updates available to existing users

Touchpad maker Synaptics has announced a deal that could create electronic signatures for more than a third of the laptops on the planet.

The company said Tuesday it will begin to bundle its touchpads, which are used on roughly 40 percent of the world's laptops, with digital signature software from Silanis Technology of Montreal.

Owners of an estimated 30 million laptops that use Synaptics touchpads can also download a free version of the Silanis ApproveIt software from either the Silanis or Synaptics Web sites.

The deal is one of the first of several product announcements expected prior to 1 October, when the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act takes effect. The new federal law makes electronic signatures legally binding. Jupiter Communications senior analyst James Van Dyke said the deal answers a piece of the electronic signature problem, including distribution.

Van Dyke said a bigger problem is the current lack of standards for electronic signature makers.

"It's a good move for Synaptics, it will only cost a little and it puts them in a good position," he said. "But, we are going to be in standards hell for a while. You can feel the flames."

The first e-signature enabled touchpads will be shipped to Synaptic users such as Apple, Compaq, Dell, Gateway and Hewlett Packard sometime next year, said Synaptics spokewoman Mariel Van Tatenhove.

The software embeds a signature token into a document. Inside the token are the guts of a digital signature, including a time stamp and the public and private keys. It also will include a digitised version of a user's handwritten signature. The signature will appear on the document.

The software to be bundled on Synaptics touchpads is a stripped down version of ApproveIt, which normally allows from multiple signatures on the same document. But the bundled software will only allow for a single signature on Microsoft Word and Excel documents.

The software available on the Web sites is called OnSign, which Synaptics introduced in July. It works for Word documents. It too only lets one signature per document. The OnSign software has been downloaded more than 65,000 times since its introduction 5 July, said Silanis spokesman Mary Ellen Power.

By year's end, she expects more than 100,000 downloads. The site is averaging a download every two minutes, she said.

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