Market and authorities react to counterfeits
Cases like this have led authorities in all relevant pharmaceutical markets to introduce anti-counterfeiting regulations, such as EU Guideline 2011/62/EU, which requires first-opening protection and an individual serial number in the form of a QR code. And in other industries, such as tobacco or food, counterfeit protection is now a proven means of protecting consumers as well as the company's own brand image.
This is a lucrative market for solution providers, which is why there is a big range of different technologies. The question companies should ask themselves is: which solution is the best for my product? Otherwise, there is a risk of investing a lot of money in a technology that does not achieve the desired effect.
Just an example: a few years ago, a pharmaceutical manufacturer applied a hologram sticker to its packaging to protect its products. A counterfeiting gang reacted by applying two hologram stickers to the copies of the packaging instead of the original. The result: customers thought the counterfeit was genuine - and the original was fake.
Covert security features for all industries
Alpvision is a supplier that can answer the question of how effective counterfeit protection works quite well. That's because the solutions offered by Dr. Fred Jordan, CEO, and by Dr. Martin Kutter, president, originally founded in a garage, now protect about 30 billion products annually. "Officially, though, we don't have any customers," Kutter grins. Because when a company - manufacturer of pharmaceuticals, food, cosmetics or even automotive - relies on Alpvision's covert security features, it’s usually a "trade secret". Which is why references are taboo at this point. However, the two solutions that manufacturers can basically fall back on to protect themselves against product piracy are no secrets.
Counterfeit protection for QR codes
Alpvision Cryptoglyph involves digital, concealed security features that are inserted into printed surfaces, such as cartons, labels or blister packs. The notches are so small they can’t be seen by the eye and are therefore invisible to consumers or potential counterfeiters. With utilization of a camera, for example of a smartphone, the information stored on the code that is inserted in the printed product can be retrieved and its authenticity can be verified.
It is possible to apply Cryptoglyph to any printed part of a package. In the pharmaceutical sector, for example, companies can use the technology to add additional security features to the QR code on the packaging for prescriptive medicines, which is mandatory under the EU Anti-Counterfeiting Guideline 2011/62/EU. The use of this technology does not require any special permission from a legislator, even in the highly regulated pharmaceutical sector, as no optical changes to the packaging were made.
The process is suitable for all common printing methods such as offset, flexo, inkjet and laser. So far, Cryptoglyph has been used primarily for verification regarding the authenticity of a product. "Applications in the field of marketing are also possible, of course," comments Kutter.
Counterfeit protection: the surface
While Alpvision is used for printed products, Alpvision Fingerprint is intended for all applications in which counterfeit protection should function directly via the surface of the product. In the packaging sector, for example, this could be blow-molded bottles or lids.
With Alpvision Fingerprint, no features are applied to the package. Instead, the system detects the microscopic surface irregularities that occur naturally during the production process, which are unique to each product and therefore serve as recognition features for authentication. For users, this has the advantage that their production process doesn’t have to be changed at any point; they simply install a camera system. "Alpvision Fingerprint is thus suitable for all applications with a matt or rough surface, for example PET bottles. And since we do not apply our own features, but simply document the naturally occurring, unique surfaces for the purpose of recognition, there are no additional costs per unit. That's why this technology is also used for very low-priced products such as desiccant sachets," explains Kutter.
Costs and speed are the deciding factors
Returning to the initial question, "Which anti-counterfeiting solution suits whom?" The answer to that is not so much industry-dependent as case-dependent, according to Kutter. "My tip to users is to always start small and pay attention to the cost of implementation. Another crucial question is whether the solution has a negative impact on the speed of the overall process. Because one thing is clear: counterfeit protection must not be a bottleneck in production."
In the case of Alpvision, these requirements are not a problem. Because with both solutions presented, Alpvision Cryptoglyph and Alpvision Fingerprint, the processes do not have to be changed, but merely supplemented.