Thursday, December 21, 2006

Nano No-No

Joining the YottaMark Hall of Shame this holiday season, is this knock-off of the iconic iPod Nano. For those who still think fakes are a problem for 'other' countries ... this was on sale in a store in Philadelphia Airport.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Fake Economy

This week's BusinessWeek included an expose of the ongoing problem of counterfeit drugs entering the US via Internet Pharmacies. As we have noted before, it is practically impossible to distinguish real from fake:

Recently security officials at AstraZeneca put fake and genuine versions of its $4.6 billion-a-year heartburn medicine Nexium on the desk of CEO David Brennan. They looked exactly the same, he says. "This is a very serious problem that is accelerating," Brennan adds.

In addition to contaminated and non-efficacious drugs, the article recounted how fakes can also contain too much active ingredient - with disasterous results. This recent article from provides a great summary of the problems of tackling counterfeit drugs - and some startling new estimates: 200-300,000 Chinese die a year from counterfeit drugs.

Nevertheless, entire local economies in China may rely on counterfeits:
Ohio State law professor Daniel Chow, a counterfeiting specialist, points to the market in Yiwu, a city of 650,000 south of Shanghai. More than 30,000 wholesale distributors sell more than 40,000 different kinds of products in the Yiwu market, 80 to 90 percent of which are counterfeit. Chow estimates there are hundreds of towns like Yiwu and millions, if not tens of millions, of Chinese who depend on counterfeit goods for their economic livelihood.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Mobile Phone as an Authentication Device

Purveyors of brand security technology have often resorted to proprietary scanning devices for checking the authenticity of products. For example: laser pens to make taggants fluoresce or cumbersome scanners with private keys to read barcodes. This is fine for a dedicated security force looking for one type of product - but limits how many people can authenticate products. Some vendors have modified camera phones with lenses or filters - but this doesn't make them any more widely useful than a proprietary scanner. Now, camera phones are emerging as a feasible technique for reading barcodes - and we see some promising trends that should encourage more mobile phone manufacturers and carriers to adopt this technology. This will have a dramatic impact on the ability to use a mobile phone to verify products.

Microsoft recently announced it will support QR codes on its Windows Mobile devices. The beta site is down - but watch this space for updates. QR codes are very widely used in Japan - and look like they will take off in China too.

Nokia also recently announced that the US version of the N93 will be able to read QR codes. This will be the first US cell phone shipped with this capability.

There are multiple startups (incl: Semacode, Kaywa, Shotcode, qode, quickmark) offering downloads for mobile phones to read both open-standard (datamatrix, QR) and proprietary (shotcode) symbologies - and it remains to be seen how the US and European markets will play out. All of these, however, require a Symbian or Java phone - which are seldom found in the US.

YottaMark launched its mobile phone authentication service in the summer of 2006.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Who's Willing to Talk About Fakes?

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Accenture teamed up to write up real world case studies of companies who are actively tackling fakes - and who are willing to talk about it. The interim version of this tool kit contains four of these case studies (New Balance, Merck, and Bendix).

There are some enlightening examples contained in these cases:

  • Manufacturing codes are attached to legitimate Bendix parts; but these are easily duplicated by counterfeiters. Moreover, makers of fake products can always claim that codes are "their own." This clearly makes the case for a 'trusted' source for authenticating codes on products - and making them impossible to guess.
  • New Balance supplies its factories with difficult-to-copy labels with an embedded code. Because labels must be attached to every shoe, this is an effective way to control production integrity and spot fakes or unauthorized overruns. In the near future, New Balance may also assign a unique number to every item—making it possible to determine where and when every article was made.

A final version of the tool kit, with eleven case studies is due out in November 2006.

The Chamber of Commerce has also launched a nicely produced website.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Good Morning America – your fakes are here.

Those of us in the industry have know of the dangers of counterfeit goods for some time ... now consumers are being reminded by mainstream news. This week, Good Morning America aired a report by ABC News on the dangers of counterfeits – illustrated with a few examples of “frightening” or even fatal consequences to consumers who buy counterfeit goods. Whether it is fake prescription drugs, shampoo, extension cords or car parts, counterfeit items are affecting people everywhere.

Consumers were – as usual - advised to “get to know what a ‘real’ product looks like” and buy from reputable retailers. We think it’s impractical to expect consumers to be experts on packaging. Sadly, that's about the only way today until brand owners adopt an easier to use solution.

Other news this week ...

FDA Orders Recall of Fake Test Strips. The counterfeit test strips could potentially could false high or low blood glucose values. The FDA says it does not know how many of the counterfeit strips are out on the market. LifeScan, who makes the genuine test strips, say they do not know either. More information can be found at or call LifeScan at (866) 621-4855.

More Con than Condom. Bogus Durex condoms look identical to genuine Durex packs. The only difference is an outdated code number printed on the bottom. The firm had no idea about how the fakes had appeared in shops and has now taken out ads in national newspapers to warn customers.

In the first six months this year, counterfeit and pirated goods valued at $699.3 million were discovered in 760 incidents in 69 countries, according to statistics compiled by Gieschen Consultancy, a Canadian company that tracks counterfeit merchandise globally.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Fighting fake drugs ... without a dose of RFID

EU Eschews Track-and-Trace

Interestingly, the European Parliament and the EMEA has not gone as far as its American counterpart, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has urged the drug industry to move towards electronic pedigree, such as RFID. The MEP’s want awareness campaigns, rather than high tech to fight drug counterfeiting.

WHO planning IMPACT

The WHO recently announced its IMPACT program (International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce). It too will include public education, as well anti-counterfeiting technology; harmonising legislation; tougher enforcement; and strengthening regulatory agencies. One option IMPACT will pursue is to give each packet of drugs a code number that can only be read when the seal is broken. The precise details are secret for now, but will be revealed in Bonn in November.

Coding Drugs Actually Works

Thanks to concerted efforts of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, the level of counterfeit drugs in Nigeria has dropped from a staggering average of 41 per cent in 2001 to 16.7 per cent this year.

Pfizer’s going direct

In order to circumvent some of the supply chain weaknesses caused by distributors, Pfizer is shipping some drugs direct to the pharmacy now in the UK, according to a report in yesterday's Time's newspaper.

Three times in the past year, fake versions of Pfizer’s heart drug Lipitor found their way into the NHS supply chain. When a drug is counterfeited, the entire batch bearing the same lot number has to be recalled.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Auctioneer, Heal Thyself!

It's not easy being the world's largest flea-market. Just like their trestle-table and tarp brethren, eBay suffers from sellers hawking fakes. eBay has come under attack several times recently from companies (such as Tiffany's) and trade groups (such as the French Luxury Manufacturers), upset at the fact that eBay makes a commission on the sale of counterfeit goods. The law is murky grey here - after all, are newspapers liable for the goods sold in their classifieds? eBay provides brand owners tools (called VeRO) to shut down suspicious auctions. "Not enough", say the brand owners, who want more proactive measures.
Leather goods maker Louis Vuitton, a unit of LVMH, the world's largest luxury goods group, last year found 235,000 examples of counterfeit articles on 340 eBay pages. In one case, it tracked more than 100 copies of the same article being sold within one hour, said Jamet, who is also a senior executive at LVMH.

In 2004, Tiffany secretly purchased about 200 items from eBay in its investigation of how the company was dealing with the thousands of pieces of counterfeit Tiffany jewelry. The jeweler found that three out of four pieces were fakes.

But is it feasible that eBay (or Yahoo, or classifieds for that matter) can authenticate the 60 million products that their members sell on their sites? Then there's, a positive Alladin's cave of products.

As eBay and other online auctions grow, a better method for easily authenticating products is required - certainly if buyers are to trust these sites.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

More Reasons to Whine

Last week the Wall Street Journal published an in-depth article on the problem of fake wine. We've discussed this persistent problem previously (for example fake Canadian Icewine). What's extraordinary is how little manufacturers have done to protect their products. There are no security features - and all the discernable characteristics (label, bottle, foil capsule) are easy to counterfeit.

"Counterfeiting is always on the rise," says Giuseppe Fugaro, head of the Ministry of Agriculture's antifraud unit in Naples. Last month, he pulled 15,000 bottles of fake Falanghina, an appellation of white wine produced around Naples, from Italian store shelves. In 2005, he rounded up more than 6.6 million bottles of bogus Falanghina in Italy.”

“In Italy, the fakes that have turned up in recent years have forced producers of top appellations such as Chianti Classico to rack up more than $1 million in legal fees fighting fraud at home and abroad.”

“Winemakers acknowledge that no vineyard is safe. French winemaker Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA says its growth in China came to a halt a decade ago because of counterfeiters there.”

Some manufacturers are talking about embedding RF devices behind the label ... not that this is much help to the average quaffer, of course.

The New Tylenol Scare? Explosives disguised as cosmetics and sports drinks

Following the foiled plot to blow up planes leaving the UK, manufacturers of cosmetics and beverages are facing a new and unexpected threat: use of their packaging to conceal explosives. Airports have responded by not only banning liquids and gels - but also creating 'sterile' zones beyond security. The question, of course, is: how can one tell that the products haven't been tampered with? Most foods and beverages have tamper-evident packaging - but many liquid products do not. Most concerning was the revelation that one of the plotters worked at the airport. A new level of product integrity is required: the ability to determine with high confidence that a product has not been maliciously tampered with.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

If you thought real cigarettes were bad ...

As if genuine cigarettes weren’t bad enough, the Irish market is being flooded with the fake cigarettes. From Sunday life in UK:

... half of all illegal [cigarettes] smoked in Ulster are believed to be cheap copies [from China], even more deadly than ordinary cigarettes and containing almost three times the quantity of tar, three times more arsenic and six times the amount of lead.

Add another item to the list of potential hazards of smoking… shoddily made, highly flammable fake lighters. This article (Fake Zippo Lighters WSJ Asia, June 2, 2006) throws light on the problem of fake Zippo lighters:

On March 15, 2005, Chinese officials received a tip from an informer that a crime was being committed on the country’s east oast. Moving quickly, officials raided a factory a few days later and found the illicit goods they were looking for: 32,980 fake Zippo lighters. Zheng Shengfen, the factory’s manager, was eventually arrested, and executives and lawyers for Zippo Manufacturing Co., who had been battling Chinese counterfeiters for years, thought they had won a major victory against product piracy. When the case went to court, the judge fined Mr. Zheng the equivalent of around US $12,500 instead of putting him in jail, upsetting officials at Zippo who had been pressing hard for, and expecting, a prison sentence.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Time to take fake seriously

This week saw another flurry of news on a wide range of fake goods - including a report from Russia on the extent of the problem of fake alcohol, that is estimated to kill 42,000 Russians a year. If fake booze doesn't kill you - the head of a fake golf club flying off, might. This article claims the problem is at epidemic proportions in the US... and gives buyers the usual platitude: if the price is too good to be true, it probably is. How long before the counterfeiters simply charge full price to defeat this technique?? The spectre of counterfeit electronics also made it into the media this week: fake memory cards. Enlightened manufacturers are finally beginning to put unique codes on products that consumers can check.

And finally, some (not new) numbers from the WSJ:

The global economy for illicit goods is massive, but by definition impossible to measure. What we do know is that it is getting bigger. The number of counterfeit items seized at European Union borders has increased by more than 1,000%, rising to over 103 million in 2004 from 10 million in 1998. At U.S. borders, seizures of counterfeit goods have more than doubled since 2001. Even allowing for improved detection rates, there is little doubt that the situation is getting worse. In the 1980s, 70% of firms affected by counterfeiting were in the luxury sector. But in 2004, more than 4.4 million items of fake foodstuffs and drinks were seized at EU borders, an increase of 196% over the previous year. In the U.S., seizures of counterfeit computers and hardware tripled from 2004 to 2005. There are also fake electrical appliances, car parts and toys.

Counterfeit medicines were reckoned to account for almost 10% of world trade in medicines in 2004. A recent study in the Lancet concluded that up to 40% of products labeled as containing the antimalarial drug artusenate contain no active ingredients. Most of these fake drugs are headed for the world's poorest countries. The World Health Organization estimates that 60% of counterfeit medicine cases occur in developing countries.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Just to prove it's not just luxury goods and drugs...

Sarah Lee, the diversified consumer goods company, successfully sued a distributor for reselling counterfeit ... wait for it ... shoe polish! Armed Marshalls raided the Pell warehouse and found 46,000 tins of fake polish imported from China and branded as Kiwi. Apparently the stuff smelled so bad, they had a sign that said "Smells Terrible But Still Works Great."

And then there's fake candy (hats off to Jim Rees for finding these pieces):

Bags, Balls and Bad Medicine

This week has seen yet more bad news about the growing problem of fakes. Is the problem an increasing number of fakes, or an increased awareness? Nobody knows for sure.

  • Spalding is busting someone's balls in China (sorry) ... fake balls claiming to be Spalding's. They estimate the extraordinarily precise figure of 5.6 fake balls being sold for every real one. As we often hear, the company is not getting a lot of suport from local officials - who are reluctant to crack down. Expect this problem to get MUCH worse as the olympics near. We predict that any brand associated with the Olympics will be counterfeited.
  • Once again, fakes have (allegedly) shown up at WalMart. This time, LVMH is suing Sam's Club for stocking what it claims are fake Fendi handbags. WalMart is maintaining they are real - but it's not the first time this has happened. WalMart settled similar claims by Tommy Hilfiger, Polo and Nautica. What is amazing is that retailers and shoppers cannot easily verify if the product is real or not (or diverted). WalMart's defense may well be: "we couldn't tell they were fake". Fendi obviously doesn't want its high end brand associated with the bargain basement big box retailer - so perhaps they should give their customer's a way to authenticate they're getting the real deal?
  • A recent report out once again shows how enormous and tragic the crime of counterfeit anti-malarial drugs has become. While high speed drug testing equipment may work - it is pitiful that this lifesaving drug still relies on a crummy hologram (that has been counterfeiting 12 different times) for protection. We have blogged about this problem before - but the global health agencies seem slow to tackle the problem. Who will step in and save the millions of children affected by malaria, and potentially at risk from substandard, adulterated, or no-efficacy drugs?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Counterfeit Britain by the Numbers

The UK is very active in tackling its counterfeiting problem. It is the home of the ACG, as well as many respectable and innovative anti-counterfeit technology firms. High taxes on certain products make fakes more attractive - but it is reasonable to assume that the rates of counterfeiting seen in Britain are reflective of all developed economies.

According to Bob Fenton, security liaison manager for the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association (TMA), out of 229 packs collected from trash cans after a sporting event, 14 — or 6% — are counterfeit. This is considerably higher than the rate the TMA estimates of fakes of all cigarettes consumed in Britain (2.6%).

In 2004, counterfeit Lipton teabags made up 67% of the foodstuffs seized in the UK. This may explain why your correspondent has always found a cup of Lipton tea to be a pale imposter of the decent British cuppa.

Adidas and Nike copies accounted for 27% and 26% of seized sportswear. Louis Vuitton ripoffs comprised 18% of seized accessories. Philip Morris counterfeits made up 47% of seized cigarettes. And Rolex fakes accounted for 16% of watches and jewellery.

Unilever said “We have come across our brand being used on sun-care products claiming a protection factor of 90. There are two things wrong with that — the sun-protection numbers go up to only about 50; and, worse still, this product did not contain any sun protection at all."

Monday, June 05, 2006

Counterfeit goods ... how to spot one.
The last few weeks have provided a wave of news that helps us build a clearer picture of just how bad the problem of counterfeits can get, and how hard it is getting to spot them.
  • Bausch & Lomb has recalled millions of bottles of ReNu ($200 millions) and is potentially liable ($ billions) as a result of contaminated contact lens fluid - and the inevitable flood of personal injury lawyers builds (such as as the hysterical 1-800-BAD DRUG). This product was real - not counterfeit. But the case shows just how much damage a contaminated fake will do to a brand. Needless to say, counterfeiters don't worry about such things as cleanliness and bacterialogical and fungal control.
  • Bosch, the German auto parts maker, has stepped up it's efforts to curb counterfeiting of spare parts - where it is particularly rampant in the Middle East. Unsubstatiated estimates suggest 30% of parts are fake. Bosch has launched a public education effort to attempt to dampen demand.
  • MSNBC's Dateline ran an investigative piece on Sunday, "uncovering" the shocking facts of the counterfeit drug trade for TV viewers. Katherine Eban, of course, already uncovered this tangled web of deceit, lies, bureacratic foot-dragging, and political finger-pointing in her excellent 2005 book "Dangerous Doses" (which has just been published in paperback). Indeed, she exposed the same cases: Procrit, Epogen, Lipitor, Retrovir... and the Dateline program has updated the list with counterfeit Viagra, Arisept, Norvasc, Crestor, Vaniqa, Xenical and Tamiflu. At the end of the program they talked about RFID - about the trials with Viagra and Oxycontin... but widespread RFID is widely expected to be about a decade away and faces awesome hurdles.
  • Virginia police busted a sporting goods retailer for selling hundreds of thousands of dollars of fake Nike and Timberland product. Once again we hear that "the fake boxes are perfect, the boots are perfect." Genuine Timberland boots have a leather shoe lace through them that are sealed with a honey wax on the end, while the fakes are sealed with plastic on the end. A representative of Nike shoes told police that for many of the counterfeits, "they have to cut the soles open to know whether they're real or not."
Isn't it time that consumer's had a better way to tell if their products are real or not other than closely inspecting the font on the label or cutting open the soles on their sneakers? We think so.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Shameless Fake of the Month

China's semiconductor community lost face this month when it was discovered that one of its top researchers, Dr. Chen Jin had blatantly faked his research. Dr. Chen had claimed that his home-grown DSP chip was capable of processing some 200M instructions per sec. Instead, it turned out that Dr Chen had taken chips produced by Freescale Semiconductor (formerly a unit of Motorola) and then used low-paid migrant workers to scratch its trademarks off and replace them with that of his company's, Hanxin.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Can RFID be a Security Solution?

In recent months we've heard announcements from major pharmaceutical players who are piloting RFID on their high-profile, most-counterfeited drugs. We've also reported here in the past on the costs of using RFID, and stories about their security weakenesses.

Seems like a paradox? Not really.

The FDA is pushing drug companies very hard to implement its vision of pharmaceutical security which relies on an electronic pedigree of every transaction at every point in a drugs supply chain. The Florida ePedigree rules come into effect this July, CA and NV are soon to follow. Drug companies are running pilots so they can't be accused of doing nothing - but the costs are extraordinary, and expectations are low. John Theriault heads security at Pfizer, he was recently interviewed on NPR.
JOHN THERIAULT: Is RFID you know a magic bullet that's gonna solve this tomorrow? The answer's absolutely not.
The company has tagged all bottles of Viagra that ship in the US. But Theriault says only one of the wholesalers Pfizer ships to have invested in the technology to read the tags.
JOHN THERIAULT: You have to understand that for RFID to work, there has to be technology deployed throughout the entire supply chain from the manufacturer to the point of sale. And that technology is currently expensive; it currently does not exist throughout the entire supply chain.
Wired magazine is running a piece this month on just how easy it is to crack RFID tags, replace their data, spoof them, and steal from them. Many security experts are predicting that RFID will be implemented with insufficient security, and users will have unrealistic expectations about how secure the data is.

Ari Juels, of RSA labs, has published several excellent articles on the weaknesses and challenges of RFID. In once of his presentations he makes the following observation:

1980: Not one reported incident of a computer virus in the wild
1999: Not one reported incident of a major DDoS attack on the Internet
2005: Not one reported incident of fraudulent use of RFID tags.

Friday, April 28, 2006

"IC" Might Mean: It's Counterfeit

A recent
article from the IEEE throws wide open the scale of the problem of counterfeit electronic components. The AGMA has estimated that an astonishing 10% of the global technology products are counterfeit. The article rightly points out that the cost is not just lost profit, but also the warranty cost of replacing faulty equipment that may have been compromised by a single bogus component.
Some examples:
  • $1.2 million of fake Compaq computer parts - including warranty cards
  • Fake GFI outlets - with fake UL logos on them, and without the GFI circuitry
  • Fake Philips IC's that Philips thought had been scrapped, that showed up at a military contractor
There are a couple of sites dedicated to tracking counterfeit electronics, including the ERAI as well as GIDEP (look under Failure Experience). What's astonishing is the quantity - and these are those products that have been volunteered. Manufacturers are still reluctant to go public with evidence of fakes - for fear of driving away customers. There are a lot more articles on the subject here. A worrisome lesson is the drive for more regulation in the industry (such as EU lead free legislation) creates new opportunities for counterfeiters to enter and profit.

The IEEE article discusses potential remedies to the problem. RFID is too expensive and lacks standard schemes for anti-counterfeiting, holograms are too easy to fake, taggants can work for some applications but not all. As UID gains ground in certain markets (e.g. DoD and aerospace), we think that unique part marking and scanning is a cheap and viable method. However, the UID must be secure (no serial numbers), and standardized so that anyone can easily validate it.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

How Bad is India's Fake Problem?

A recent report in the Daily India claims India is fast emerging as one of the major manufacturing hubs of fake products ranging from cosmetics to electronics, software, mineral water, books, music cassettes. Interestingly, mineral water is one of the easiest products to counterfeit. It is trivial to refill empty bottles, and even acquiring new, tamper-evident closures is a simple matter.

Counterfeit products on an average constitute about 20 percent of the legal market. In case of some products, it is even 50 percent or more,' said Sachit Kumar, director of Globe Detective Agency Pvt Ltd.

We reported here earlier, that up to 50% of the "Scotch" whiskey in India is fake. Between 10 and 15% of inkjet cartridges are reported to be fake.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Fighting Fakes the French Way

The INPI, CNAC and French government have launched a campaign designed to educate the public about the dangers of buying fake goods - and who benefits from the proceeds. In inimitable French style, the website has funky, Clouseau-esque music and even funkier cut-out animation graphics.

Even if you can't read a word of French, the site is terrifically entertaining and well thought out.

iPod has been iCopied
Apple has been warning its service partners that fake iPod Shuffles and iPod Nanos are hitting the shelves. The Nanos are pretty easy to spot, but the Shuffles are quite convincing to the untrained eye. Counterfeiters have copied the packaging and a valid serial number (wouldn't it be nice if consumers could type this serial number into Apple's website, and authenticate and register their product?!) By the way, the bogus serial number is 6U545TK2TJT.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

NPR Covers Piracy

National Public Radio's Marketplace program is running a special piece on counterfeiting this week. You can listen to archived recordings of the segments on auto parts and counterfeits. Katherine Eban, author of the excellent investigative book, Dangerous Doses, is featured.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Waiter, this wine is ... fake

Counterfeit wine and alcoholic beverages continue to be a growing health and financial problem. Instances of fake wine, liquor, and beer are cropping up worldwide, and it's no longer just fake expensive French vintages.

  • Recently Russia has cracked down on imports of Georgian wine, finding that 50-80% of the famous beverage is fake. Often these fakes are alcoholic cocktails laced with dyes and flavors, and perhaps a trace of fermented grape to try to fool the inexperienced nose.
  • Fake Eiswein claiming to be from Canada has put a serious freeze on sales in China. Four years ago, China was a promising market for Canadian ice wine. In 2001, one Beijing-based importer was selling 50 to 100 bottles of Canadian ice wine every month, despite the high price of the product. By 2004, the importer's sales of Canadian ice wine have fallen to less than one-fifth of their 2001 level, largely because the pirated ice wines have grabbed control of the market. Furthermore, the poor quality of the fake product has ruined the reputation in this burgeoning market.
  • A recent study by the State Administration for Industry and Commerce in China found nearly 60% of "foreign-brand" liquor found in four major Chinese cities is fake. Often these liquors contain industrial alcohol or formaldehyde - and can be fatal. The counterfeiters were able to copy the anti-counterfeit labels, too.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Bar(code) Brawl

Lawyers have their knives drawn in a patent dispute over the public domain 2D datamatrix technology. Originally invented by RVSI (now part of Siemens), the venerable datamatrix has been promoted as an open standard, is covered by ISO/IEC16022, and has been widely adopted as the symbology of choice by manufacturers due to its high data density, ease of marking, excellent error correction characteristics, and widely available scanners. Datamatrix is widely used on e-stamps (, electricity bills, mailings, pharmaceuticals, UID, medical devices, auto parts, etc. etc.

Therefore it was disturbing to the industry to hear that a little-heard of legal firm was out demanding licensing fees for use of the datamatrix. A number of companies -- including Adidas, AMD, Nokia, and Boston Scientific -- have signed license agreements rather than litigate. But why, surely it’s public domain? The legal firm is allegedly seeking licensing fees in the vicinity of $400,000 -- a sum considerably less than what it would cost those companies to defend themselves in court. Therefore it’s easier to settle than to fight. This is familiar to anyone who knows the Lemelson case - in which a firm was able to extract over $1bn in license fees from companies using barcodes.

Not so fast!, says Cognex - an industry leader in machine vision - who would have a lot to lose from its customers shying away from the 2D datamatrix. “We strongly object when questionable patents are used to extort payments from companies that do not have the expertise to challenge the patents, or who, for business reasons, decide to submit to licensing demands rather than to undertake costly legal challenges," said Dr. Robert J. Shillman, Cognex's Chairman and CEO.
Cognex is well positioned – they beat the Lemelson case, and believe the patents being used by Acacia are far weaker.

If Acacia is successful in “extracting” a tithe on the datamatrix, then it would be a boon to makers of proprietary code symbologies, such as VideoJet’s “Snowflake”, ORBID’s 2DMI, or Code Corp’s “GoCode”. Given the installed base and strength of the datamatrix case, however, … it looks like Acacia will be on the defensive.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Recent news on fakes
  • The latest countefeit drug to be found on the internet: the anti-obesity drug rimonabant (which will be marketed as Acomplia). This drug has yet to receive EMEA approval - but is already available via the internet. It joins 169 other fake drugs already identified as being readily available on the internet in the EU.
  • Cigar Aficionado reported a recent of cigar counterfeiters seems to have finally shown some teeth in federal prosecution of such cases. The counterfeiters had boxes and bands to make millions of $ of fake stogies... including: Cohiba, Hoyo de Monterrey, Montecristo, Partagas, Romeo y Julieta, Trinidad, Saint Luis Rey, Bolivar, San Cristobal and H. Upmann cigar brands. Altadis U.S.A. owns the U.S. rights to many of those brands. General Cigar Co. owns the U.S. rights to Cohiba, Partagas and Bolivar.
  • GSK joins the list of pharma companies piloting RFID-tagging of high risk drugs. GSK is running a pilot on Trizivir, its anti-AIDS drug, and joins Purdue's OxyContin painkiller. Pfizer is also testing RFID to authenticate and track shipments of Viagra in the U.S., while distributor McKesson is also using the tagged Viagra in its own RFID technology pilot. These pilots are intended to iron out some of the technical and standards issues facing unit-level tagging. One issue is what information will be in the EPC tag. To protect consumer privacy, the drug name will not be stored in the tag - which will only contain a randomized serial number that references an external (secure?) database. Major drug companies met recently in Rome as part of the Healthcare User Group (HUG), to discuss the issues they're facing and to try to establish standards. Several of the presentations (which are on their public website) are very informative.
  • Squeezing the balloon. Xiang Yang market infamous for selling fakes has been closed in China, following on from the closure of Beijing's Silk Market. However, word is already out that the new place to get fakes is in a place called Lou Yang in southern Shanghai. Watch this space.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

What's In Store for RFID?

It's been a tough month for RFID advocates. Hot on the heels of the revelation at the RSA show that
RFID chips can be eavesdropped with a modified cell-phone... the FDA sent a message to the industry that it was disappointed with the slow progress of RFID trials. Many industry observers have been saying that the FDA is unrealistic about the cost and complexity imposed by RFID. Pfizer's Tom McPhillips, vice president, U.S. trade group was at the FDA meeting. He said, “It would be possible to implement RFID tagging for higher risk products in three to five years. It would take several years beyond that before all drugs could get tags.” That makes 6-9 years at least from now before unit level tagging of pharmaceuticals is widespread. The problems facing RFID are not insurmountable - but they are fearsome, and include:
  • cost of tags, readers, infrastructure and systems integration
  • consumer privacy fears and backlash
  • lack of security in low cost chips
  • lack of standards (tags, China)
  • reliability and physical robustness
The latest threat is that the RFID tag could potentially carry a virus, that could infect a database. Although this scenario is unlikely, it's one more battle the RFID boosters have to fight.

Scott Gottlieb MD,
Deputy Commissioner for Medical and Scientific Affairs, in a recent speech to the PDA, emphasized his enthusiasm about RFID, but reiterated that there are other technologies, such as 2D barcodes, that can be used for product authentication. Indeed, manufacturers may gain much of the benefit, and a lot of the learning, about unit-level coding and authentication from solutions that don't suffer from some of the technical challenges facing RFID. At the very least, these technologies will provide the bridge for the next 6-10 years until RFID is ready and the kinks have been ironed out.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Mixed Messages
A recent article in the "Stars and Stripes" helps US military personnel find the best counterfeit goods in the Czech Republic, including how much to expect to pay for a carton of fake Malboros (20 euros). The irony of this (beyond the fact that the manufacture and sale of fake cigarettes and apparel are known to be associated with terrorism and organized crime) is that the article was published the same week that the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 32. The “Stop Counterfeiting in Manufactured Goods Act”.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

How To Spot a Fake Memory Card

WCCO-TV Minnesota ran a story today on
counterfeit electronics products in the US. Their advice on how to avoid buying a fake:
  1. If it's a bargain - be suspicious. (However, fakes aren't always cheap.)
  2. Buy from reputable outlets. (But even retailers are fooled.)
  3. Take a close look at the physical characteristics of the product, including the wording on the label, the size, shape and color. (This, of course, presumes you know what to look for.)

These steps alone are clearly not enough. Secure coding provides a better solution, as the reporter says:

A number of companies are adding ... serial numbers to their products, so consumers can make sure their products are real by calling the company or using a Web site.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Which Products Are Being Counterfeited?

It is a common misperception - particularly in developed markets - that only luxury goods get counterfeited. Everyone knows that the "LV" handbag at the market stall, the "Chanel" perfume on Canal St., and the $1 DVD are counterfeit (we presume). But, few consumers would stop to question whether their Nescafe instant coffee is counterfeit. Or what about soy sauce? Tea bags? Creamer? Cough drops? Shampoo? Household detergent?

The list in fact covers pretty much every brand name consumer good. The question isn't so much "which products are being counterfeited" ... " which products aren't?"

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Emperor's New Handbag?

Luxury goods manufacturers have been adding overt and covert security measures to their goods to allow consumers, police, retailers, and customs officials to spot fakes. But, for fear of alerting the counterfeiters, they're not telling anyone what the security measures are. A report in yesterday's Wall Street Journal (subscription required to view it) entitled "Holograms Tell Fake from Fendi", revealed the lengths and costs some luxury brand owners are going to, to protect their goods, now that :
"Today, many fake handbags are made of good leather, packaged elaborately and sold (usually unwittingly) in high-end accessories stores."
"copies of [LV's] handbags are sometimes so good that consumers realize they're fake only when they take them into the company's boutiques for repairs."

But, it's well known that holograms are relatively easy to spoof, and how is a customer (or over-stretched policeman or customs official, for that matter) supposed to know what it is supposed to look like? The WSJ article points out:
"Holograms are better than nothing, but they are already being copied," says Claudio di Sabato, head of security at Italian fashion house Prada Group NV. Indeed, police in Naples said they recently uncovered a warehouse with photocopiers used to create fake holograms -- with the basic design but without the deep colors and multidimensional images -- for counterfeit handbags. And a Fendi saleswoman recently said she had already seen a bogus Fendi handbag complete with a hologram."
If that wasn't reason enough to claim the "emperor has no clothes", consumers say they won't rely on a hologram as a proof of authenticity.

Here's a fake and real hologram from a life-saving anti-malarial drug. Sure side-by-side, one looks suspect - but on it's own, who could tell?
And here's a real and fake hologram on a SONY memory stick. Again, could YOU a consumer tell which one is real?

The physical appearance of fakes has gotten so good, that visual-only
techniques such as color-shifting inks and holograms have lost their discriminating power. What is needed is a more interactive way of authenticating a product, that the customer can rely on. Holograms may be "better than nothing", but that's not saying much.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Stealing from the Steelers
The SuperBowl isn't just a great opportunity for advertisers ... it's an irresistable opportunity for brand pirates. Merchandise bearing team logos, such as the Steeler's "Terrible Towel" was widely counterfeit following the SuperBowl. The quality is indeed terrible, the colors run, the products shrink ... and worst, the charitable recipients of the Steelers largesse (a school for retarded adults and children) doesn't receive a penny.

Licensed products are easily counterfeited, and difficult for licensees to control. For example, $6M of unofficial NFL gear was confiscated in 2005 - but the true size of the problem is unknown.

Until license-owners adopt simple ways for consumers to know if they're buying the real thing, and their dollar is supporting their teams and good causes ... the stealing will continue.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Fake Brands Good Headlines Make

The last week saw mulitple headlines regarding counterfeit products - further pushing awareness of the problem into the public domain and psyche. What is interesting is these stories show the scope of the problem - from Tiffany jewelry, through MP3 players, and irons, to toothpaste. Unless the consumer has a reliable way of authenticating a product themselves, they remain at risk.

  • Tiffany & Co. is suing eBay for enabling a huge market in fakes and for serving ads that point to fake Tiffany products when the brand is searched. Tiffany's research found an astonishing 95% ... NINETY-FIVE PERCENT... of Tiffany branded products sold on eBay are fake. eBay has a program, called VeRO, that allows brand owners to monitor and shut down trademark infringing sales.
  • The San Jose Mercury News ran a cover story today, highlighting the scale of counterfeiting in high tech industry. In it, they quote: The Imaging Supplies Coalition estimates that one in every 20 printer cartridges sold in the United States is fake, with worldwide losses running at $2 billion a year. Perhaps what consumers find surprising is the high tech nature of these fakes - these are not simple devices to copy.
  • A massive fake toothpaste bust in the Philippines also yielded a fake L'Oreal, and 2000 bottles of fake perfume.
  • This news snippet came to my attention today, too. Back in November, 2005 the Ningbo Municipal AIC in China confiscated over 20,000 infringing irons produced by Zhejiang Jiangxin Electrical Appliance Co., Ltd. The infringer was caught red-handed in two successive raids producing irons with trademarks including “TEFAL”, “BRAUN”, “SIEMENS”, “SAMSUNG” and “PHILIPS”.
  • Finally, Transparency International this week released their report on corruption in the global health system. It contains much of the usual data on the terrible scale of drug counterfeiting.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Facts on Fakes

We believe one of the problems in tackling fakes, is the lack of data about them. Partly this reflects companies' reluctance to disclose the size of their problem, but perhaps more importantly it is because there's so little feedback from the marketplace to the brand owners.

We can infer the size of the problem (it's big), from culling some recent news items:

  • Louis Vuitton - a much copied brand and a division of luxury brand owner LVMH - says its network of 250 agents, investigators and lawyers engaged in the anti-counterfeiting struggle conducted 6,000 raids worldwide in 2004, resulting in 1,000 arrests.
  • In any one day, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) are prosecuting 50 cases [of Scotch whisky counterfeiting] around the world with people trying to pass products off as Scotch whisky. For example, the SWA estimates that there are 22-30 million cases of counterfeit Scotch sloshing around the Indian whisky market. It is not unknown for producers of allegedly genuine Scotch whisky to give substantial discounts if the bottles and screw tops were returned after use (a simple ploy to circumvent many anti-counterfeit devices on legitimate packaging).
  • Counterfeit drugs continues to be the most newsworthy. The Food and Drug Administration investigated 58 cases of drug counterfeiting in 2004, up from four cases in 1998, according to an agency report. Last year, about 1.7 million tablets of fake Viagra, one million tablets of Lipitor, and half a million tablets of Norvasc were seized in China.

In other words - millions of people every year are (often unknowingly) buying fake Scotch, fake Viagra, fake Lipitor, and fake Norvasc.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Fake Tamiflu Starts Its Own Epidemic
The trickle of fake flu drugs I blogged about here a few weeks ago has become a river ... or at least the news of it has. A couple of days ago, the FDA released a Statement, which included these sobering observations:

it is often impossible for unsuspecting consumers to differentiate between these products and those that are not genuine

advertised products may be counterfeit versions of genuine products, or impure, contaminated, sub potent or super potent products.

The FDA continues to champion adoption of RFID for supply chain security - but this is of modest help to the consumer. Currently, one of the only resources to consumers is which provides news alerts on instances of counterfeits, and advice on buying pharmaceuticals over the Internet.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Technology Fakes

Much of the counterfeit news is dominated by fake drugs. However, PC World recently investigated the prevalence of fake consumer electronics. In keeping with our efforts to report on actual data, PC World found the following:
  • Alaska: 20,000 suspected fake Memorex USB memory key thumb drives from Asia
  • Miami: 900 allegedly phony laptops
  • Three of the top ten items that US Customs agents seized in 2004 were consumer electronics, batteries, and computer hardware
  • PC World purchased seven hard drives, seven memory modules, and ten cell phone batteries online, using pricing search engines to find low prices. We then asked vendors to authenticate the gear. Of the two dozen products we bought, four (all cell phone batteries) were counterfeit - Nokia, Motorola, and Kyocera. 40% of the cell phone batteries purchased online in the US turned out to be fake!
At least Nokia had provided a method for consumers to check authenticity. They included a hologram and unique serial number under a scratch off panel. The counterfeiters spoofed the hologram but didn't bother with the code - images here.

PC World hit on the major problem facing consumers:
Regardless of where a fake comes from, you probably won't know it's bogus until you try to get the nominal maker to service it.
Nokia is unusual in providing its customers a way to check the authenticity of their products. This powerful tool is what YottaMark provides brand owners.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

UK TV Program Exposes Problem of Fake Drugs

An investigative report by the UK's ITV which ran on 9th Jan used investigative reporting techniques to expose just how easy it is to infiltrate fake drugs into the UK's retail and hospital supply chain.

IS YOUR MEDICINE FAKE? A TONIGHT SPECIAL: Fiona Foster presents a report on the illegal market for counterfeit drugs. She investigates how potentially dangerous forms of medicine can enter the supply chain for the NHS - and even be sold in high-street pharmacies. (ITV1, 8pm)

In July 2005, the UK's BBC had run a similar program on Fake Drugs. Both referred to the discovery of a fake Viagra plant running in a warehouse in a London suburb.

What made the ITV program unusual was the successful, and purposefully deceitful, application for a wholesale drug license from the MHRA using fake identities and a rented office space. The MHRA immediately responded with a press release, indicating that it was within its rights to investigate the ITV programmers for making a false application. The program probably villified the MHRA unfairly, and the 'made-for-television' sting with hidden-cameras and disguised faces smacked of grandstanding. However, the problem is real - and the program demonstrated to a comfortably-numb TV audience how pervasive it could be.

Especially telling, was the number of times middle-men and patients said they looked at the packaging - even had it 'inspected' - and figured it was authentic. Only when one patient went online to find out which lot numbers of Lipitor had been counterfeit, did she go to her doctor. A better system which allows users to differentiate between real and fake by looking at the packaging is required - one which can be more proactive and informative than holograms or security inks.

Monday, January 09, 2006

More Fake Tamiflu Arrives ... But How Can Consumers Tell?
Another couple of shipments of fake Tamiflu have been intercepted coming into Chicago and New York. Without a doubt, this is only the tip of the iceberg that the US CBP have been able to catch. The problem, is: how can a consumer tell if they're getting the real thing or a fake? At $200 for 10 tablets online, and a panicked market - it's an target-rich environment for counterfeiters. There are some common-sense tips:
  • Make sure it has the right FDA label,
  • There is no such thing as "generic" Tamiflu,
  • Buy only from VIPPS online pharmacies,
  • Be suspicious if the text is in a foreign language (it could be a diverted product, if not a fake).
  • It should look like this.
In the long run, however, a more reliable and consumer-friendly method is needed for allowing patients to authenticate the products they buy.
This is a situation where YottaMark's solution is more effective, and easier for consumers than any of the above methods.
Viagra & Chips

Pfizer recently announced the start of its trial of RFID tagging bottles of Viagra in the US, to prevent counterfeiting. It is worth noting that the tags are for pharmacists to check (although very few pharmacies have RFID equipment yet) and the pills would be re-packed into amber vials for consumers - to avoid privacy concerns.

The RFID tag will contain the EPC, which can be checked against a database of issued EPCs. This can help prevent fraud and diversion. Importantly, however, RFID tags are not themselves counterfeit-proof, and can be copied - so Pfizer is probably using a one-time use database, that can only be accessed by authorized users. Pfizer will be including a 2D datamatrix in the event that the RFID tag fails (how many pharmacies have 2D datamatrix readers?).

"Viagra was selected for the RFID project because it has been a major target for counterfeiters,"
Pfizer said in a statement.

The company plans to spend about $5 million on the project for RFID labels.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

No Surprise: Counterfeiting Damages Brand Value
A newly released survey confirms what we may intuitively have known all along: counterfeiting damages brand value - particularly in the eyes of the most valuable consumers. What perhaps is more interesting, is that 25% of these luxury goods buyers have difficulty spotting a fake, and they think the problem will be getting worse.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Engaging Consumers in the Fight
It's a courageous way to tackle counterfeits ... empower the consumer. We're beginning to see more public acknowledgment of the problem (for example recent Glaxo ads in press, Nokia's user-authenticable cell phone battery), and now the Italian government has launched a counterfeit 'whistle-blower' hot-line - for customers or retailers to call in suspected fakes.

This actually makes a lot of sense. Consumers care about brand integrity and safety for many products - and want to be able to either check the authenticity of a product, or offer a sort of 'neighborhood watch' on the marketplace. Vendors such as HP, Kingston, and Motorola say they usually learn about counterfeiting problems as a result of consumer complaints.
Counterfeits flourish in dark corners - a bright light on the problem - and greater consumer awareness - will benefit legitimate manufacturers in the long run. In China, ironically, the QBPC is very active in educating consumers about fakes. In the US, on the other hand, the "No Trade in Fakes", STOP initiative, and other such programs sponsored by industry groups are aimed more at legal recourse and manufacturer education of IPR, than consumer empowerment.