Verification through Telecommunication

Smartphones could become the product-authentication tool of choice. Contains online bonus material.
Sep 02, 2011
Volume 35, Issue 9

Hallie Forcinio
Counterfeiting is becoming more sophisticated and widespread, but the number of overt and covert tools to fight it is growing. As a result, the global market for anticounterfeiting products for pharmaceuticals and foods is expected to increase to $79.3 billion by 2014, reflecting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.6% since 2009. According to this forecast, North America will account for almost two-thirds (62%) of this expenditure; however, the second-largest market, Asia, is expected to expand faster, with a CAGR of nearly 20% because of the low penetration of anticounterfeiting measures and a significant level of counterfeiting in the region (1).

Interest is particularly high in protective technologies that rely on input from a smartphone. Readily available worldwide, smartphones can authenticate products in real time at the point of purchase or at home. In fact, global smartphone sales will top 420 million devices in 2011, accounting for 28% of all handsets. With the introduction of affordable "entry-level" smartphones, researchers predict that annual sales will surpass 1 billion devices by the end of 2016, or one of every two mobile handsets sold (2).

As well as being increasingly likely to own a smartphone, consumers also find the device familiar and easy to use. Smartphone authentication technology delivers an immediate "authentic" or "not authentic" response to a text or to the scan of a barcode or other package feature. Frequently, the authentication technology also can send product-related information, support track-and-trace or pedigree initiatives, or collect data about the purchase. Therefore, smartphone-based technology "is finding favor as an alternative to 'specialist' readers across the entire authentication market," wrote William Llewellyn, vice-president and senior consultant at AWA Alexander Watson Associates, a Netherlands-based market-research firm (3).

Smartphone-based authentication technology is already in use in Nigeria and has been so successful that it will be commercialized in other countries in Africa, as well as in India. "Given the prevalence of mobile technology throughout the world, it made sense to use a technology that was already in every customer's pocket," explains Ashifi Gogo, cofounder and chief executive officer of Sproxil, a provider of brand-protection software and services.

In Nigeria, consumers remove a scratch-off overprint, similar to that used for lottery tickets, to reveal a one-time-use code. Then they text it to a phone number that works on all cellular networks within the country, and servers dispatch a response indicating whether the drug is genuine. Confirmation messages also can be customized to include information, such as disease-management tips. Both outgoing and incoming text messages are free. If a fake product is found, the consumer is given a hotline number to call. Hotline personnel report fake products to the Nigerian Agency for Food, Drug, and Administrative Control for further investigation (Mobile Product Authentication analytics, scratch-off labels, Sproxil).

A Smartphone doesn't have to be connected to the network to authenticate a product with a 1-Tag label from Heidelberg.
A similar technology has been adopted by Unichem Laboratories to simplify the authentication of products made at two of its plants in India. Blister lidstock is printed with a unique barcode and private virtual phone number. Implementation on the packaging line simply requires a printer to apply the barcode and a scanner at the end of the line to record it. Because the barcode-generating and -authenticating software is compatible with most printers, it's possible to use existing units.

To authenticate a product, the consumer dials the phone number and texts the code. Response is immediate and can include targeted information, and the interactive connection makes it possible to collect unit-level sales data, including geographic location, time to market, and drug-authentication history. The system also can send reminders to take a dose, refill a prescription, or follow up with a doctor (Unique ID Mobile Verification, PharmaSecure).

Another smartphone-based product-authentication method relies on a custom two-dimensional (2D) code printed with visible or invisible ink. Scanning the code links the user to a web portal that confirms whether the product is authentic, as well as delivering other information, such as coupons, product videos, directions for use, or recall updates. The code also can be used during the packaging process to prevent label or product mixups, verify that kit components are correct and complete, and support track-and-trace initiatives. Like other smartphone-based authentication methods, the interactive, multilingual system allows manufacturers to communicate directly with consumers and collect demographic information (Mi6 2D code and DigiTrack system, Complete Inspection Systems).

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