Method for verification of informed consent to electronic agreements
Original Publication Date: 2001-Aug-01
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2003-Jun-20
Disclosed are methods and systems for verifying that a signatory understood an electronic agreement before affixing his digital signature. It is important because in many countries digital signature laws have been passed making digital signatures valid for entering into electronic agreements. This generates problems when people agree to contracts over the Web because there are frequent disputes as to whether an individual signatory understood the agreement. Web user agreements have been investigated by the Federal Trade Commission showing the importance and controversies surrounding the use of such agreements. Currently some of the agreements merely have something like an "I agree" or "I disagree" button and that is usually inadequate consent in many situations. In reality the signer should reasonably READ and UNDERSTAND the document. In the Web, there are many reasons why a document is not read or is unreadable. For example, the print may be hard to read, or the text can disappear in a Web browser if the user setting co-mingles the text color and background. Hence an Internet based merchant really has no clear way to verify at the current time that the agreement has really been read by the signer as intended by the merchant. In case of paper agreements this is typically not a problem. In the physical world usually the merchant explains the major points of the agreement verbally before the signatory customer signs. In important documents the merchant's representative typically goes over the main points in the agreement. In the case of electronic contracts, we disclose some new features that will increase the likelihood that the customer will better understand the agreement and has actually seen/understood/heard the agreement. In all the cases below variations can be provided to utilize instant messaging in case the contract requires explanation from the merchant. Some of the features are: 1. Record the time it took for the signer to read an agreement presented via the Web. If it is outrageously low then ask the signer to read the document again, explaining that he could not have read a 5 page document in 3 seconds. Alternatively display text in slow motion on the screen. 2. Read the agreement in audio in its entirely before the "I accept" button can be clicked. Before displaying the "I agree" and "I do not agree" choices play the whole agreement in audio. This way it is confirmed that the agreement was listened to completely. Optionally, provide explanation of the main clauses of the contract through speech. Repeat the questions asked through voice and acknowledge/repeat the response the user has selected on a particular clause.