Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Throw that pen. Get a Chemical Signature

May I lick the contract?

The Chemical Signature is a simple concept: make your ink unique by mixing a new color and adding secret components. Even salt and sugar will do it.
Now, the custom ink could have been invented by Da Vinci, but without Internet it would have been very hard to associate a person with its Own Ink.
It is possible now for everyone to have a custom ink, adding safety to signatures and rubberstamps. The ink is obtained by mixing standard colors in different proportions. As a first step in validation, the colors are shown in a website, under a code.
The additional components that add safety to the OwnInk system are substances that are easy to detect, if you know what you are looking for. If you do not, you need a multimillion dollar lab and many hours of expert chemists or biochemists.
To know some of the secret components, the validator needs to register in a website. More components mean more safety levels, and more requirements for validators.

What is wrong with the $1 ball pen?

In these times of digital signatures, nobody pays attention to ink signatures, which are still made as in the Middle Ages, but move billions of dollars every hour. Ink signatures in paper will probably stay around until we extinct all the forests.

However, when handwriting analysts mention technology, they mean a magnifying glass. No changes have appeared in the way we sign and in how the signatures are verified. On the other hand, criminals have now scanners, graphic software and check software, enabling them to easily falsify any rubber stamp or signature, no matter how complicated.

As a result, attempted check fraud in US banks surpassed $4.32 billion in 2001, doubling for the 2nd time in 4 years (American Bankers Association Deposit Account Fraud Survey Report).

Not only banks need to verify signatures: notaries, universities, governments and those who face the globalized economy. And still, they rely on visual examination to compare signatures.

You can sign in any color, as long it is black.

There are a few obstacles for the Chemical Signature. For instance: Will Notaries accept signatures with Customized Safety Ink?. Probably not, because the law favors Black. One reason is that light blue is bad for xeroxing, but there is nothing wrong with other colors. Maybe the law can change. And there is nothing against chemical tracers.

It is also possible to sign in black (with subtle amounts of chemical tracers) and stamp in color. You need a stamp to state that "This document is signed / stamped with Custom Ink #123456".

Another problem would arise when you lose your pen or rubber stamping pad. Your ink can fall in the wrong hands. However, it is easy to implement a reporting system such as the one that Credit Cards have.

Is this document radioactive?

As a matter of fact, yes. If you are reading this in paper, it will be less radioactive than a computer monitor, but it still has a background radiation.
The ink can have radioactive components that are easy to identify and measure. However, if they stay below certain limits, no authority will complain.
Alternatively, some biological components can be added for extra safety and easy detection by a biochemical lab. DNA or saliva could be good options, but the company providing such an ink would be liable for handling hazardous materials. However, many biochemicals are safe enough to be included in the ink.
Fluorescent, magnetic and particulate components are also possible.

The love letter is worthless, but the ink is $890
Who is going to profit from the chemical signature?
The banks will save money in graphoanalysts and forged checks. Validator entities will earn from the simple and profitable chemical analysis. Resellers of the ink kits, pen makers and gift shops will also have a bite.
It is not clear how will Notaries perform when the rules of their business get turned upside down. Some will join the innovation and take advantage of it, while others will see their business disappear. Scam artists will certainly spend thousands in chemistry courses and lab equipment.
The product can be segmented into several price ranges. The simplest custom ink with few components and little guaranty will cost about $5, while the ultra-secure variety with a golden pen will go over 800.
Beyond all the safety issues, there is a powerful reason for the Chemical Signature to succeed: the impulse of people to affirm their personality, to be fancy and original.

Go to the OwnInk project site for more details.

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