Dyeing to stamp down on the counterfeiters

Chemical anti-counterfeiting technology designed to beat even the most determined fraudster could appear on UK products by the middle of the year.

Cambridge-based technology development specialist Generics is developing a peel-back labelling system that uses oxygen-sensitive dyes to authenticate the origin of packaged goods.

The chemicals on the label react with the air when a protective film is peeled back, gradually revealing a ‘hidden’ colour image in a similar fashion to a photograph taken using a Polaroid camera.

Generics believes that mass-production of the labels – which can be as small as a postage stamp – will be possible at a cost of well below 1p per unit. It hopes this will make it attractive to manufacturers of a range of high-volume goods where proof of authentic origin is important. These could include items that can be pirated such as videos or safety-critical products in the pharmaceutical sector.

Manufacturers using the system will be able to choose their own latent image, making it possible to reproduce a corporate logo or other instantly recognisable feature.

Cambridge-based Generics is carrying out R&D work on the latent imaging device, which is the brainchild of a chemist, Alex Laurie. The company said it is negotiating with several producers of packaged consumer goods, and hopes to see the system in commercial use by the middle of the year.

Mark Priest, head of Generics’ materials division, said the use of latent chemicals should put replicating the system beyond all but the most determined forger.

‘Most anti-counterfeiting technologies rely on clever printing, but this is about clever chemical technology,’ said Priest. ‘Even if you knew how it worked, getting access to the special chemicals and films – and having the ability to process them in vacuum conditions – is going to be outside the skill of most people.’

Manufacturing of the labels would take place under controlled conditions in a similar fashion to existing security printing operations.

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