Imitation isn't always the highest form of flattery. Counterfeiting products continues to be a thorn in law enforcement's sidearm: an estimated 5 to 7 per cent of total worldwide trade is made up of counterfeit goods.
The usual fake suspects crop up - Chanel bags, jewellery, sports tickets - but some alarming health risks are rearing their head in phony pharmaceuticals, children's toys (think dangerous plastic) and even icewine.
But a new anti-counterfeiting technology from Kodak aims to combat imposters.
Developed in 2006, Traceless uses a colourless, odourless powder infused in an ink. A covert security marker is deposited on each item through thermal transfer, a process commonly used to print barcode labels. It can be applied to any material imaginable - paper, plastic, clothing, labels and textiles. Kodak's proprietary reader can scan a product and determine if the ink has been applied, letting the retailer know if the product is authentic.
The marked product doesn't have to be remade to fit an anti-counterfeiting technology, and it doesn't have to be integrated with a software system. Kodak says Traceless is more attractive to retailers and law enforcement than competitors like radio frequency identification (RFID).
"RFID systems and other authentication technologies such as DNA-based systems often require significant capital investment," says Steven J. Powell, GM and director of Kodak's security solutions, in an interview with NOW.
Because of Kodak's experience in gadgets, Traceless focuses on electronics and batteries as well as health care and medicinal products. Why? "Because of the extreme consequences that can come from counterfeit products in these markets," Powell replies.
Megachains like the Gap may rush to Traceless technology, but some lesser-known players also want to fight the counterfeiters. Sports card maker Donruss announced it would use Kodak's invisible marking on its high-value trading cards.
Bill Sawtelle, VP of quality assurance at Donruss, said in a press release, "Our cards are unique because they contain actual game-used artifacts, so the value of the card really depends on its authenticity. The system will help us limit the ability to counterfeit cards."
Fake icewine has been in the news recently. A company in China was caught selling a facsimile of a Niagara winemaker's wine and even stealing photos from the website belonging to the real Vineland Estates. The influx of bogus vino is hitting Canadian winemakers hard; sales of Canadian icewine in China have fallen 60 per cent from highs earlier in the decade, according to the Ontario Wine Council.
Traceless is the kind of tech Vineland can use to ink its bottle labels.
"The retailers of these products can play a role as one line of defence in a broader security strategy that is employed and overseen by the brands that manufacture them," Powell says.
The anti-counterfeiting market is looking more sci-fi than ever. Besides Traceless's invisible ink, other innovations are available to anxious businesses: engraving products with microscopic laser etchings, dyeing them with DNA markers or injecting nano-tracers into everything from running shoes to Viagra pills.
And if you think the bright lights of Christmas are immune to counterfeiters' greed, think again. Fake Christmas lights pose a threat to consumers looking for miraculously cheap prices, authorities say. Shady retailers and unauthorized dealers have been known to sell lights that don't stack up to electrical safety and fire codes.
If it were up to Kodak, almost every product you can think of would be marked by Traceless so the phonies wouldn't stand a chance of getting past the factory floor.