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Detect product piracy quickly

News from Apr. 21, 2023

Counterfeits of high-quality products such as medicines, cosmetics, watches, or food and beverages circulate in large numbers, especially in online retail. Consumers barely have a chance to verify the authenticity of a product. In the SmartID project, scientists at Fraunhofer are now developing a counterfeit-proof barcode system for authenticity verification simply by using a smartphone without accessing a database. The team is presenting a SmartID demonstrator for the first time at the Interpack 2023 trade fair for packaging in Düsseldorf.

The market for counterfeit products is booming – especially in online retail. For example, according to an estimate by the World Health Organization WHO (2020), one in ten medicines purchased online is a counterfeit – from lifestyle drugs to essential medicines. This not only has an economic impact. In serious cases, it may cause severe health effects. But how do consumers distinguish whether a product is genuine or counterfeit? Barcodes and QR codes are supposed to help convey information about products to consumers and allow traceability of products. However, even these labels can be counterfeited or copied.

Surface texture as a unique safety feature

In the SmartID project, the Fraunhofer Institutes for Applied Polymer Research IAP, Secure Information Technology SIT and Open Communication Systems are developing a novel labeling system to uniquely verify and authenticate products via smartphone.

They take advantage of the fact that every package possesses a unique, characteristic surface texture. The texture is comparable to a human fingerprint and can be detected by standard smartphone cameras. A smartphone scans the printed barcode and, at the same time, the texture of the surface. The barcode already contains information about the texture. A specially developed app compares whether the information stored in the barcode matches the data from the scanned surface. A tamper-proof barcode is created.

The SmartID labeling system was designed in such a way that it not only serves to authenticate the product, but may also contain additional information about it. The system is also easy to integrate into commercial printing processes during the manufacture of the packaging.

Authenticity check without database and internet connection

For manufacturers, there is another advantage: no IT infrastructures have to be set up. Since there is no need to use a central database, various IT security and data protection challenges are not required. In addition, there are no costs associated with the installation, commissioning and maintenance of databases.

The Fraunhofer consortium will be presenting a first SmartID demonstrator at the stand of the German Engineering Federation VDMA as part of Interpack 2023. Visit us at hall 4, booth C54.

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