Protecting Brands

Counterfeit goods are predicted to account for 10% of world trade by 2005-2006.

The search is on for the ultimate security label, particularly as legislation does not punish brand counterfeiters adequately. The self-adhesive label laminate is the most flexible carrier of security devices, as it is almost infinitely variable within its components. Security devices can be embedded under or on top of facestock, printed on it, or added to the adhesive layer.

For many products, a device such as an “over-the-lid” paper seal is sufficient. There are ultra-destructible materials, which when tampered with, reveal a hidden message on both label and substrate. Two- or three-dimensional customer-exclusive watermarks, only UV- or IR-readable, can be created using nylon fibers of a specific length or color. Metal strips or fragments, either highly visible (e.g., iridescent) or invisible, can be embedded in the substrate. Other possibilities are polyester security threads, thermochromic threads, and micro-marked fibers. Other identifiers, accessible only via special scanners, include near-IR fluorophores and DNA, chemical, and micro-taggants. Security print and inks can enhance these features.

OVDs, based on holograms, are a highly used method of achieving product security. DOVIDs (Diffractive Optically Variable Image Devices) were developed from decorative metallized holograms to enhance the esthetics of packaging and can combine this attribute with security functions at a reasonable cost. They can be two- or three-dimensional; they can include image changes (simulated movement); they can emulate banknote security features, including microtext; and they can be included in a product's bar code.

Minimizing “inventory shrinkage” is achieved today via three main technologies: electro-magnetic, acousto-magnetic, and radio frequency electronic surveillance systems. For comprehensive traceability, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags represent a compact package of transmit-receive coil antenna circuit, transponder microchip, and capacitor. They can be scanned at any point in the supply chain, and data is relayed back to a computer. Costs are coming down, and Wal-Mart and other retailers are driving RFID's commercialization on cartons and pallets.

Another technology — EMID (ElectroMagnetic Identification) — has proved valuable for authenticating blister-packed pharmaceuticals. EMID tags can be scanned through exterior packaging without breaking the tamper-evident seal. They can be linked to a bar code on the outer packaging to create a unique identity for the package.

Despite these advanced technologies, the bar code is not dead. Today's 2D bar codes carry more information than conventional bar codes, and other developments — including a printed 2D matrix code that can carry brand security data — keep bar codes up to date.

Today, security labels can provide the solution a manufacturer wants for brand authentication and protection. The challenge is to define the solution required; to set it in the context of manufacturing, packaging, and supply chain systems; and to establish an appropriate budget. The security industry — from electronics specialists, through packaging manufacturers, to the label printers and systems integrators — is more than qualified to do the rest.


Dr. William Llewellyn is a senior associate of AWA Alexander Watson Assoc. and an international business and technical consultant.



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