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ECTA Members’ Voice: The fight against counterfeit cannot be only legal. Technological solutions are essential to increase the effectiveness of anti-counterfeiting strategies - The Observatory publishes an Anti-Counterfeiting Technology Guide.
By Caroline Casalonga, ECTA Anti-Counterfeiting Committee Member, Casalonga (FR)

The Observatory has just published a very interesting Anti-Counterfeiting Technology Guide, which aims to give companies an overview of the different technical solutions available on the market to fight against counterfeit.

The different technologies are presented in five main categories:

- Electronic;
- Marking;
- Chemical;
- physical, mechanical; and
- technologies for digital media.

For each technology presented, a definition is given together with a description of the main characteristics, uses, implementation requirements and information relating to costs.

The Guide also includes information on blockchain and ISO standards that can be applied.

1) Electronic technologies

Electronic technologies enable the goods to be uniquely identified, authenticated and tracked. As such, RFID that uses radio frequency technology may recognize an object remotely with an electronic tag that enables product traceability and identification throughout the entire supply chain. Active RFID tags have their own battery, a transmitter and a receiver allowing the right-holder to follow the product anywhere.

2) Marking technologies

Marking technologies enable to mark the product with a unique security feature in order to authenticate the product. The marking can be optical with a laser reading machine, a QR code or barcode, a hologram or different types of ink (UV sensitive or reactive).

3) Chemical technologies

The main purpose of these technologies is authentication without simultaneous unique product identification. Specialised hardware or laboratory tests are needed to read and verify the markers they create. This makes it very difficult for third parties to reproduce similar markers. There are different types of chemical technologies: DNA, chemical encoding and tracer, glue coding, surface fingerprint and laser surface analysis.

Chemical technologies include DNA coding which is very interesting as it is compatible with all types of material and can be used in bottles containing alcohol (for wine and spirits but also for perfumes and fuel). DNA coding implants molecules containing specifically generated DNA codes (or DNA markers). The basic DNA sequence may be modified to create an almost unlimited number of unique markers, which can be used to individually identify each of the articles being protected. DNA markers can be applied to all types of material, meaning that they can be applied both to products and their packaging. The tags are invisible to the naked eye and are stable and permanent. They have a low environmental impact and are non-toxic. The DNA is quick to apply and only the tiniest amount is needed – the DNA to material ratio is absolutely miniscule – which leaves the product properties unaffected. Specific tests must be carried out by specialised laboratories to detect and verify the implanted DNA codes.

4) Mechanical technologies

Most mechanical solutions take the form of different types of labels that usually need to be authenticated via an automatic reading device, such as a barcode reader, or simply with the human eye. Those include labels, laser engraving, anti-alteration devices, seals, security threads and security films.

Traditionally, security threads are used in bank notes. Security threads can be very thin, almost invisible. Those can be painted with special light sensitive pigments, microprinted, or magnetised. There are new developments for use of such threads in apparels and shoes but also for attaching and/or sealing. These are used, for example, to attach tags to clothes or products and as micro-seals for warranty purposes.

5) Technologies for digital media

There are four types of anti-counterfeiting technologies for digital media, which fall into two main categories: digital rights management (DRM) systems and automatic content recognition technologies.

DRM systems are designed to combat large-scale counterfeiting of audio-visual works. They are used by copyright and other associated rights holders to protect, exercise and manage their rights in the digital environment. Automatic content recognition technologies aim to identify content that is in a media file or being played on a device. Those technologies include digital watermarks, hashing and fingerprinting.

The study emphasises that the defence against counterfeiting may be reinforced by combining anti-counterfeiting technologies with the blockchain (shared ledger) technology as it provides a reliable means of tracing all the transactions that take place throughout a supply chain, from production to the shop. It is built around a decentralised peer-to-peer system and is essentially a database (ledger) of verified asset exchanges that is stored simultaneously on all the computers connected to the network. As it does not depend on a central server, it has no single point of failure.

An example of use of the blockchain to fight counterfeit is in the pharma field. A unique ID (hash) is assigned to each pack of medicine produced. The said unique ID is generated and registered in the blockchain. It can be used throughout the distribution channel. The pharmacy selling the product can verify the pack ID to check that the medicine is genuine.

While counterfeit is spreading all over the world, the combination of these different technologies with the blockchain will allow any person in the chain, from the right holder to the consumer, to verify whether the product is genuine or not.


The views expressed are those of our members and not necessarily of ECTA as an association. The content has not been subjected to a verification process, the accuracy of the information contained in the article is responsibility of the author.
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