As discussed in my October Supply Chain blog, new technologies and practices are playing significant roles in the fight to protect brands and identify counterfeit product. Two that I find especially intriguing are consumer-based authentication practices and covert technologies that require trained personnel and special equipment. As counterfeiters grow both smarter and faster in bringing products to market, (even to the point of bringing the counterfeit product to market before the genuine product has launched) the need to develop, implement and improve means for authentication is greater than ever — for consumer goods and pharmaceuticals.
Using consumer authentication can be challenging, the ultimate barrier being that consumers must be taught how to check authenticity. For example, certain mobile apps can be employed to check the validity of a unique code on a product. In other cases, consumers may be asked to send an SMS message with the unique product ID to the manufacturer. With smartphone technology, QR codes or other proprietary codes can be scanned and checked against a manufacturer database.
The challenge with such methods is that counterfeiters can take advantage of authentication instructions sent to the consumer to develop a roadmap of how to fool them. Counterfeiters can set up a parallel universe of coding, fake product procedures and a fake product database, thus fooling the consumer into believing they have authentic product. Counterfeiters also can mass produce fake product code by copying the code on authentic product.
Ultimately, covert technology is increasingly available and is one of the more powerful security steps that can be taken to authenticate product and identify counterfeits. Invisible barcodes embedded in product materials or molecular nanotechnology that is part of the product is not designed for use by the consumer, but rather by either "in-house" personnel or third-party security specialists. Because covert technology is not visible, it is less likely to be detected and copied by the counterfeiter. The real strength in this case is the ability to enable counterfeit product to be easily and definitively detected; in many cases, with simple tools in the field. It enables early identification, triggers investigations and engages law enforcement to conduct raids and seizures with a high level of confidence that counterfeit product will be present when a raid is conducted. Covert technology underpins all other security measures that are utilized, and particularly any overt technologies that are used.
Inmar and our partner Authentix were chosen to deliver the GMA/FMI TRADING PARTNER ALLIANCE "Best Practices Guide for the Protection of Branded Food and Consumer Packaged Goods in the Marketplace." As part of this guide, we have conducted a survey of manufacturers and retailers to develop a comprehensive best practices document.
Can consumers be effective partners to help identify counterfeit or will doing so ultimately give counterfeiters insight into how to better mask counterfeit product? Is third-party manufacturing increasing counterfeit risk? Is it difficult to control third-party manufacturing security? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.