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Vol. 1, Issue 2
June 1998 

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border.gif (871 bytes) Year 2000: Legal issues for businesses. Page 1.
by Craig Fieschko, Patent Attorney, DeWitt, Ross & Stevens, S.C.
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If you've been watching the news, chances are you've heard a variety of spine chilling scenarios which could arise from the year 2000 problem, also known as the "Millennium Bug," the "Millennium Bomb," and the "Y2K Bug."  There are many web sites that highlight technical (e.g., Yahoo search of Year 2000 sites) as well as legal issues.   This article covers gives the highlights regarding legal risks arisng from Y2K and how careful planning can reduce the risk of liability for your organization.

Topics covered:


Brief Overview: The Technical Problem

The Y2K problem originates in the date-processing routines of older computer software and hardware. Because computer memory was once very limited and expensive, software and hardware generally stored dates in six-digit form: as an example, the date June 8, 1995 might be represented in mm/dd/yy form, i.e., as 080695. Thus, many computer systems cannot handle the "rolling over" of the year digits on January 1, 2000 (or 010100). Lacking millennial and centennial digits, software and hardware which perform actions based on the year digits may treat the year 2000 as the year 1900 and yield erroneous results. As one example, a program which sorts dates and their associated actions into ascending order may treat dates in the year 2000 as having higher priority than dates in the 90's. As another example, a program might calculate that -99 years have passed between December 31, 1999 (311299) and January 1, 2000 (010100) by subtracting 99 from zero. Other software and hardware may simply be incapable of accepting years after 1999, or may fail to recognize the year 2000 as a leap year and skip directly from February 28 to March 1.

There is no realistic chance of a universal solution for the year 2000 problem. There are literally billions of lines of software code wherein year 2000 problems may be hidden, and numerous different programming languages and styles to contend with. Thus, each different program will generally require its own customized repairs. Additionally, year 2000 problems can be difficult to isolate since even if software is year 2000 compliant, the same is not necessarily true of the hardware on which it runs. An example may be sitting on your own desktop, since the internal clocks and/or memories of many older personal computers use two-digit years. The year 2000 problem is also compounded in that it is not limited to what most people regard to be computers and software, since many modern devices have embedded microchips and digital controllers which are also date-sensitive. For instance, numerous "smart" building maintenance systems (heating/cooling systems, fire and intrusion alarm systems, etc.) rely on correct date usage for proper operation.

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