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Challenging counterfeit products with rare earths

New marking technique could halt product piracy

freephotocc; pixabay.com; CC0

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29-Jan-2018: Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have developed the world's most secure marking system for combatting pirated goods including pirated pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs, designer merchandise and artwork. The system could be on the market in a year and because the markings are random, it cannot be hacked.

Companies around the world consistently suffer significant economic losses due to counterfeited goods made by pirate manufacturers for whom international patents are of no concern. Nor do these pirates lose sleep over placing people's lives at risk when, for example, they sell dangerous and counterfeit medications online.

However, tough times are on the horizon for pirates according to four researchers from the University of Copenhagen's Nano Science Center. They have developed a system that head of research and associate professor Thomas Just Sørensen of the University of Copenhagen's Department of Chemistry calls "the safest in the world" when it comes to clamping down on all types of pirate manufacturing: "The system, which deploys three rare earths among other things, is based on randomness, which makes it unable to be hacked or tampered with", says one of the researchers Thomas Just Sørensen: "As soon as a customer asks that an authorized dealer checks up on a piece of merchandise that was meant to be marked using the system, an expensive wrist watch for example, the dealer can access a manufacturer database to check its authenticity."

The probability of two products having the same 'fingerprints' - the same digital key - is so minuscule, that in practice, it can only be described as non-existent," explains Sørensen. "It corresponds to a one out of an enormous number composed of a 6 followed by 104 zeros."

Can be on the market in a year

The University of Copenhagen has taken out a patent on the marking system and it is expected to be on the market in roughly a year. Researchers are currently fine-tuning scanning solutions to ready the system for manufacturers. According to Thomas Just Sørensen: "We estimate that it will take approximately one year, at which point we will be very close to being able to put a commercial version on the market."

Researchers estimate that the cost of marking products will be modest, probably not much more than one Danish krone. Additional expenses from the data systems have yet to be fully estimated.

Original publication:
Carro-Temboury, Miguel R. and Arppe, Riikka and Vosch, Tom and Sørensen, Thomas Just; "An optical authentication system based on imaging of excitation-selected lanthanide luminescence"; Science Advances; 2018

Facts, background information, dossiers

  • counterfeit drugs
  • counterfeiting analysis
  • University of Copenhagen
  • product piracy

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