Adobe to unveil Approval

Adobe Systems Inc. today plans to introduce Acrobat Approval software that will enable users to fill out, spell check, digitally sign, save and electronically submit PDF forms that have been created with Adobe Acrobat 5.0 software.

More than 80 federal agencies now offer forms online — ranging from applications for Social Security cards and passports to requests that immigrants can file for temporary protected status.

But in most instances, the forms are not true examples of e-government at work. Most are in Portable Document Format, or PDF, and cannot be changed. That means they can't be filled out and filed online. Instead, they must be downloaded, printed, filled out by hand and mailed to the agency to be processed as paper documents.

Adobe, the inventor of PDF, hopes to change that. Acrobat Approval will enable users to fill out and file forms while online, or download forms, fill them out offline, and then file them electronically later on, said David Rodrigues, Adobe's senior product manager.

The software is smart enough to recognize when users must put the same information into multiple forms or multiple parts of forms. The fields that require the same information are automatically filled in, Rodrigues said.

The software is being released as agencies grapple with the requirements of the Government Paperwork Elimination Act, which takes effect Oct. 23, 2003. GPEA requires federal agencies to permit people who must submit information to the government the option of doing so electronically, "when practicable."

Although GPEA applies to information submissions by anyone, for now, Adobe Approval is being aimed chiefly at the government-to-industry market.

"A lot seems to be going on there," Rodrigues said. The Food and Drug Administration, for example, requires companies to submit information about new drugs as PDF files. And federal courts have begun requiring that case documents be filed electronically as PDFs.

"It sounds like they have created a secure legal instrument" for creating legally secure digital documents, said Susan Feldman, director of document and content technologies at IDC, "and there's definitely a need for that."

Adobe Approval permits forms and other documents to be signed digitally, making them legally binding. Once a user applies the digital signature, it locks the document. The software applies a time stamp that indicates where and when the document was signed. If any changes are made subsequently, it invalidates the signature and records what changes have been made and who made them, Rodrigues said.

Acrobat Approval will cost $39 when bought one copy at a time, but can cost as little as $14 when bought in bulk.

MORE INFO

Key features of Approval

* Allows PDF-based forms to be filled out online.

* Permits forms to be signed electronically and applies time stamp that

indicates when and where form was signed.

* Allows scanned handwritten signatures to be applied.

* Recognizes fields common to multiple forms and replicates necessary

information.

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