Counterfeiting is one of the fastest growing and widespread economic crimes worldwide. Advances in technology have enabled brand owners to incorporate anti-counterfeiting devices and sophisticated printing in their packaging, but these same advances in technology enabled counterfeiters to come up with better copies of products and packaging. Ink jet printers, colour copiers, scanners and now 3D-printers are just a few tools counterfeiters use to imitate the original product and/or packaging.
Let’s be clear, counterfeiting isn’t any more restricted to the high-end consumer products and not even to the pharmaceutical and medical area. The problem is already signalled with ordinary consumer products from well-known brands. What is simpler? I create a simple soup, label it as Campbell’s or Heinz, and all profit mine.
And the consumer? He has nothing other in his hands to qualify a product as genuine, than his confidence in the retailer. As counterfeit products are unstoppably turning up on shop shelves with fakes simply being knock-offs, relabelled sister products, a mix of fake and genuine product, or a refill masquerading as a virgin product, the consumer may become victim of a do-it-yourself counterfeiter or of a vertically integrated international operating counterfeiting organization. The consumer’s trusted store could be an unsuspecting conduit or complicit in the crime. One thing is clear: the problem is getting worse.
For a counterfeiter, success is having every non-complicit person handling the product downstream to accept the fakes as legitimate products. The products don’t need to be exact copies, only good enough to fool those handling or buying the goods.
In the past, and often even today, the industry “tackled” this problem with the most fantastic, mouth-watering technological and intellectual tour-de-force, entirely forgetting what the real goal is in its battle against counterfeiting. The goal should be the consumer and not exposing the counterfeiter. A common misconception is that a counterfeiter will quit the practice if he gets caught …….. Well, take the war on drugs as example of success, and you can foresee the future of counterfeiting.
Fortunately you see at this moment anti-counterfeiting specialists returning to the basics, i.e. introducing consumer-empowered options that enable the consumer himself, at the moment of his purchase decision, to authenticate the genuineness of a product. In other words only overt solutions have value, all covert solutions are a waste of money. Recently three new systems have been introduced.
FiberTag is an anti-counterfeiting labelling solution featuring a paper face-stock with unique fibre patterns that can be scanned at point of purchase to validate product authenticity.
The system was first introduced at LabelExpo Chicago 2012 by Prooftag in partnership with Neenah Paper.
The first application on the market of this most promising chaosmetric security technology, which found its way from Europe to the U.S., was recently showcased by Avery Dennison with a brand protection application for a wine bottle label that pairs a smartphone-readable Quick Response (QR) code with a UV-activated FiberTag.
Rick Lingle in Brand Protection nicely defines FiberTag as a “chaosmetric” security feature that uses a random dispersion of coloured security fibres associated to a serialized 2D code to create a unique fingerprint for each label. This provides intrinsic authentication that is claimed as impossible to duplicate. The QR code app on the smartphone displays what the fibre pattern should look like if authentic.
FiberTag is a cost effective security solution that ensures the uniqueness of each label, tag or seal with an individual and visible fingerprint for authentication. FiberTag is produced on a security paper that includes visible security fibres incorporated and spread randomly in the paper pulp at the production.
Enabled by Prooftag’s visual authentication concept, the FiberTag is now available to label converters that want to offer an innovative security solution, along with many other digital services for a secured smart label. Those security labels are connected to a service platform that offer to right holders track and trace, interactive marketing, usage analytics, alerts…
A completely different way of thwarting counterfeiters is in development by researchers at the University of Michigan using a new iridescent plastic that reveals hidden images with a breath.
Iridescent plastic film
Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing, reports that a new iridescent plastic that reveals hidden images with a breath is described in a recent paper published in Advanced Materials. Researchers at the University of Michigan hope to use this technology for anti-counterfeiting purposes, replacing the ubiquitous hologram stickers used on things like luxury handbags and passports with a humidity-activated logo.
Like peacock feathers and butterfly wings, the sheets are iridescent because they are covered with tiny regular structures that diffract light. Their surface is studded with a grid of columns, called nanopillars, each 100 times thinner than a human hair. Previous generations of nanopillars were extremely fragile, breaking when handled or rubbed. By using a blend of polyurethane and epoxy instead of a brittle material like silicon, the researchers were able to make the sheets flexible and durable enough to survive a trip to market.
When a peacock gets wet, it loses its shine. Water droplets scatter incoming light, destroying the intricate interference responsible for its shimmering colours. The researchers accidentally rediscovered this phenomenon when one of them breathed on an iridescent sheet and it became more transparent. To take advantage of this, they used a customized inkjet printer to deposit a thin water-repellent coating in the shape of an image. When you breathe on the sheet, water condenses on the sheet and makes it transparent, everywhere but on the outline of the image.
“What you see in these images is just the beginning,” says study author Nicholas Kotov. By adding layers of nanoparticles with interesting optical properties, Kotov hopes to produce sheets that look distinctive and are hard to replicate, at least without state-of-the-art equipment. The difficulty of making these sheets gives them an advantage over current anti-counterfeiting measures, at least for now.
Flexi-Cap against counterfeiting
Counterfeiters do not hesitate to take empty original containers from dumpsters, in order to refill them and illegally sell them as originals. In answer to this problem Schreiner MediPharm introduced a security solution that combines first-opening indication and labelling. The Flexi-Cap, as the system is called, irreversibly shows that a primary container has been opened, and thus prevents illegal reuse and filling of empty containers with counterfeit substances.
The new security concept is based on a combination of label and cap, as the film cap is first put over the closed container, then the label is applied without covering the peel-open tab on the opening strip. Once the strip is opened, the bottom part of the cap, together with the label, remains attached to the container. Attempting to remove the rest of the cap destroys the label. This eliminates the possibility of illegal, unnoticed reuse.
The specialty solution is usable with different container types, forms and sizes. Unlike shrink-wrap solutions, the label construction can be applied without using heat, making it suitable for temperature-sensitive medicines. The top of Flexi-Cap allows space for bar code printing or NFC chip integration for electronic tracking.
These were three new developments to tackle counterfeiting. Will it help? Ahh, keep in mind what Joseph Xu wrote: “… today’s state of the art is in tomorrow’s desktop fab lab, and the cat-and-mouse game with counterfeiters is sure to continue”.