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VENTURA COUNTY BUSINESS | THE BUSINESS BEAT

Interlink's ePad Device Is in Write Place at Right Time

September 19, 2000|ROSEMARY CLANDOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As the new economy changes the way we approve contracts or credit card receipts, be it with a retina scan, thumbprint, secret code or your signature, Interlink Electronics is betting on the signature remaining the popular choice.

The Camarillo-based company has blended tradition with their newest technology, the ePad, which enables handwritten signatures to appear on computer documents and become permanently bound to them.

This, company officials hope, will set up Interlink well when the Electronic Signature in Global and International Commerce Act goes into effect Oct. 1 and establishes the legal validity of electronic signatures.

In addition to electronic signatures, the new law allows retinal scanning, thumbprints and personal access codes.

But Americans "are accustomed to using signatures," said E. Michael Thoben III, Interlink's president and board chairman. "We're not going to try to change social behaviors to send documents."

The company, with 115 employees in Camarillo and 43 in Tokyo, has been in business for 12 years and is a leading developer of wireless remote control devices for projectors. Its other business units include intuitive interface technology for home and business applications. To help overcome one of the biggest obstacles to paperless offices, the electronic transactions division of Interlink developed ePad for electronic signatures.

A 4-by-5-inch pad, the ePad is nearly the thickness of three credit cards. It has a window with the universal signature symbol, an "x" followed by a line, where signatures can be written with a stylus, finger or pen over paper.

"An artist can duplicate my signature, but he'll never sign it with the same speed and pressure that I use," said Thoben.

That gives the device its security. When ePad is attached to a personal computer using signature verification software for access control, someone attempting to forge the owner's signature will be stopped by any of the 20 biometrics, or personal factors, recorded by the ePad. This, Thoben said, makes electronic signature forgery nearly impossible. EPad registers, among other things, the speed and pressure used for signatures, as well as the method of dotting the I's and crossing the Ts.

Security thresholds can be set to accommodate signature variances caused by fatigue, mood changes and even alcohol and caffeine consumption.

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Interlink has several small pilot programs in progress, including a program with Charles Schwab that will use 5,000 units for account registrations. With the increase of online trading, company officials said, ePads will help brokerage companies speed up the new account registration process and save money.

Permits.com, a New York-based shop for contractors' permitting needs, is using the product, selling the ePad to its nearly 100 contractor-clients who attach it to their computers. Any time a permit application requires an original signature, contractors can sign the application in their office instead of going to the permit office, said Stephen Rizzo, president of Permits.com.

Rizzo said he has marketed ePads to building departments in New York, and "they are comfortable accepting a signature. They've done it for years." Companies can use the Internet to download the software required to receive signed documents.

"The ePad meets all the legal requirements of the federal law soon to be enacted," Rizzo said. "The big plus is that you actually see the signature. People are not ready for retinal scanning or thumbprints."

The ePad retails for $99. One version, ePad Approve-it, contains software designed by Silanis Technology and is compatible with Microsoft Office or Excel. And an alternate version, ePad Sign-it, is compatible with Adobe Acrobat, and has software produced by Communications Intelligence Corp.

Although the business aspects of the ePad seem to work well for Interlink, some observers wonder if there are enough security measures for what remains a practice with more questions than answers.

"I am wondering where all the loopholes are," said Richard Fox, a criminologist in Ventura who has been verifying the authenticity of signatures for 35 years. "The bill opens up a queasiness. I have seen in the early stages of Internet and computer use how easy it is to put a valid signature into your computer and then add it to any documents you want to create."

Officials at Interlink said that after a signature is written on ePad, the inscription is "bound" or digitally woven into the document. If any character is subsequently altered in the document, the signature disappears or a big red "x" appears on the signature.

In more than 90% of the applications, ePad will not be verifying signatures but only accepting and binding signatures, company officials said. However, Interlink has designed ePad's verification hardware to be compatible with a number of software packages.

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