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Adobe Buys EchoSign For Electronic Signature Technology

By providing contract execution in the cloud, Adobe aims to help businesses operate entirely online.

Moving to enhance its online document exchange services, Adobe on Monday said that it has acquired EchoSign, a Web-based provider of electronic signatures, for an undisclosed sum.

Adobe sees an opportunity to simplify electronic document signing, making the process more accessible than it has been, and to provide document lifecycle management services. EchoSign's electronic signature technology should complement other Adobe document products such as managed file transfer service SendNow, form creation service FormsCentral, and online PDF creation service CreatePDF. Adobe Acrobat already offers PKI-based digital signatures, a subset of electronic signatures with more rigorous authentication requirements.

Together, these services form the backbone of a cloud document tracking and management package that may hasten the arrival of the long-foretold but perpetually delayed paperless office.

"With just one click, the EchoSign electronic signature solution automates the entire signature process from the request for signature to the distribution and execution of the form or agreement," Kevin M. Lynch, VP and general manager of Adobe's Acrobat and digital enterprise groups--not to be confused with Kevin Lynch, CTO of Adobe--explained in a blog post. "The EchoSign solution provides a secure subscription-based service to individuals, SMBs, and enterprise customers, enabling real-time visibility into the signature process and automatically storing and managing all signed documents."

Electronic signatures have been the legal equivalent of handwritten signatures since 2000 in the U.S. They've found external use primarily among financial services firms--banks, brokerages, insurance companies, mortgage companies, according to research firm Forrester, and internal use among pharmaceutical companies, as a means for complying with regulatory document custody requirements.

In a phone interview, Lynch said that he believed electronic signatures are at an inflection point in the market. Though he estimated that less than 1% of contracts are executed online, he said he expects that electronic signatures will become the norm in three to five years.

What's driving companies to adopt electronic signatures, said Lynch, is their desire to run their businesses online. Web companies like Groupon and Living Social are already doing so, generating contracts from data and pushing the documents through EchoSign. Lynch believes this will become more common at a broader range of companies.

Jason Lemkin, CEO of EchoSign, said that when his company launched in early 2006, EchoSign was handling 80 contracts a month. Today, that number has risen to over a million a month, he said, and he expects that number to grow by a factor of 50 to 100 in the next few years.

EchoSign is exceedingly easy to use. It allows users to sign uploaded or faxed documents by typing a signature or by drawing a signature inside an online form field. There's no need to maintain an authenticated signature token or signature file on a local computer--everything is done online.

Such simplicity, said Lemkin, is critical. "What customers want is for the product to work they way they work," he said. "And it has to be 10 times better."

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