What is a signature
A signature is a unique symbol/mark or written depiction of a person’s name or nickname. It’s used on documents to identify the individual and serves as proof of intent.
The important part of that definition is that a signature is a symbol/mark or written name. That means something as simple as an “X” can be considered a signature. It just needs to be unique enough to identify the person who appends it.
In addition to the signature being unique, other things or supporting details can be used to support a signature or symbol used for identification purposes. For example, when using a clickwrap signature (more later), your email address and IP address can be used to support the authenticity of the signature.
Now, let’s look at the types of signatures in use today.
Types of signature
Symbols and marks
Symbols or marks have been used for a long time as signatures. In ancient times, important people such as kings would use a seal on important documents as a form of authentication. This could be used in lieu of or in addition to the signature.
The most important characteristic of the symbol is that it should be unique so that it’ll be easy to link it back to the signer. Yes, you can technically use an ‘X’ as your signature but it’s frowned on because it’s difficult to link an X to an individual.
Instead, stylize the X or choose a unique symbol to represent your signature. It doesn’t have to be complex, it just needs to be something that can be tied back to you. When the symbol is written, it can be used in almost all cases where a signature is required.
Written or wet signature
The most popular type of signature until this day is the written signature – also known as a wet signature. This is a physical mark on a document which can be in the form of a symbol or name. It can be created by a person or machine and is created by a person.
According to the U.S. Uniform Commercial Code “A signature may be made manually or by means of a device or machine, and by the use of any name, including a trade or assumed name, or by a word, mark, or symbol executed or adopted by a person with present intention to authenticate a writing.”
Oftentimes, it’s the cursive version of the entire name or the initials but this isn’t a requirement. The main aspect is that it’s physical instead of digital. It has the highest standing and is the most widely recognized in jurisdictions around the world.
It’s important to keep in mind that a written signature isn’t limited to only the name of the signer. It includes seals, symbols, etc. These can be used in almost all cases where a signature is required.
An electronic signature is relatively new and can be called a digitized representation of a wet/written signature. It’s data in electronic form (the signature) which can be associated with other data in electronic form (the document) and is used to authenticate a document through signing.
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It’s a widely accepted way to get consent for electronic documents and forms. Not every jurisdiction recognizes electronic signatures as legally binding so it’s important to understand the applicable laws when using them.
Platforms like UsefulPDF provide software that makes creating and using electronic signatures simple and secure for everyone involved. You make your signature, send out a secure email to the recipients, and the rest is taken care of for you.
An electronic signature is not as versatile as a written signature because many laws accept them in a narrow set of use cases. While they’re convenient, they’re not as secure as written signatures. Because of this an electronic signature with stronger security and authentication protocols was developed.
Digital signatures are similar to electronic signatures in that they’re an electronic representation of a signature. The major difference is the process used to create them and the security protocols surrounding them.
A digital signature uses what’s known as PKI (public key infrastructure) to encrypt data. The PKI is maintained by a certified digital certificate authority and the signer needs a digital certificate with a limited validity. A public key and private key are used together to encrypt the signature. If the keys don’t match then the signature is invalidated.
Of course, there are more nuances to the processes but it creates a much higher level of security. Digital signatures are required for different situations depending on the jurisdiction you find yourself. You can learn more about electronic signature laws for different countries here.
Click wrap signatures
Clickwrap signatures are unique to online commerce. It’s when a simple check box or similar form of consent is used before a purchase can be completed or registration finished. It usually asks you to agree to the terms and conditions and will link to a more detailed page for you to read.
All the user needs to do is click the box and their consent is registered. It’s easy for the organization and the user to get and provide consent respectively. These kinds of signatures are legally binding as long as best practices and guidelines are followed.
They should only be used to get simple consent like terms of service or end-user license agreements. They’re not a substitute for signatures on contracts.
As you can see there are many types of signatures and they each have their place. The most popular type of signature is the handwritten one but as the world advances, electronic signatures are becoming more and more prevalent.
If you’ve not done so already, be sure to check out our electronic signature solution to decide whether or not it’s a good fit for your needs.