Countering the Counterfeiters: How Brands Can Protect Themselves

Your brand is valuable. In fact, the reason for branding is to signal special value in products—value that cannot be weighed or measured, but that carries an assurance of quality, integrity…all of the traits you have worked hard to make the brand represent. Today though, the odds are that someone, somewhere, is trying to counterfeit your brand. And that puts you at risk.


Duped by these “sharks”, consumers may lose trust in your brand if they feel you are promising quality that you are not delivering. Your choice as a brand owner is to either make it impossible for counterfeiters to operate or make it very difficult for them to even try.


But, you can forget about the first option. Making it impossible for someone to copy your branded package simply isn’t going to happen—especially when anti-counterfeiting specialists suggest that as many as 10 percent of the attendees at brand security conferences may be counterfeiters. That doesn’t mean you can’t foil counterfeiters—you just have to make it very difficult and cost-prohibitive for them to mimic your identity. To do so, you can choose from a variety of protective on-pack technologies, from traditional “overt” markings like bar codes and date/lot codes to the more recently introduced electronic, biological and chemical “covert” identifiers that can be detected only with special equipment.


Special feature containers


One technique for protecting beverages from counterfeiting is the use of a proprietary shape. CCL Container makes such a can for liquid dietary supplements sold by TrimSpa Inc., with the objective of making the distinctively shaped packaging too expensive to duplicate.
“There probably aren’t 10 companies in the world that could make this impact-extruded shaped can,” says CCL vice president of sales and marketing Ed Martin.


Adding to the expense, the shapely cans carry complex lithographed images, including photos, and, soon, will feature a debossed TrimSpa logo on their side.
Soft drink companies have used specialized cans with color-shifting inks or debossed logos, but only on a limited basis for special visual or tactile effect. Clearly, this expensive technique is only suitable for a company with large production runs that will allow it to amortize the cost of the packaging setup by a high-end can manufacturer.



One of the most effective brand protection systems is that offered by chemical and organic taggants—tiny identification tags that can be added to packaging elements—from inks and labels to papers and flexible pouches—or to products themselves. The taggants are so small they cannot be detected even by advanced computer, chemical or mass spectroscopy analysis. Yet they are immediately detectable by field-testing.
Taggants are usually proprietary to the company making them, as are the detection devices, most of which are hand-held field devices that yield a “yes/no” indication of authenticity.
Taggants offer another benefit: they typically reside in a different location on each individual package or product. Thus, attempts by counterfeiters looking to defeat them by removing the part of the product or package where they have been inserted are often fruitless.


Specialty inks

Inks have developed rapidly in the past few years. Thermochromic and color-shifting technologies have made inks reactive, enabling them to indicate temperature changes in a package, or to let consumers or inspectors instantly see color shifts as overt evidence of authenticity. But the newest inks add hi-tech covert elements that guard against counterfeiting even more effectively.
Sun Chemical is a leader in this new technology, often referred to as “track and trace”. Its SunGuard product invisibly marks packaging using chemical taggants that reside in the ink, to be read only by a proprietary wand or camera. The system is costly, but with SunGuard, the packager has the advantage of using existing graphic and design elements on a package, simply printing them with the tagged inks.
Because the taggants are in the ink, printing can also be done by conventional means, including inkjet printing, in brand owner facilities, right on the filling lines. The idea is to enhance the control brands maintain and to make the invisible ink more integral to the packaging, adding another layer of security.


Laser coding and marking

After the process of coding with ink became widespread, the idea of using a high-performance laser to burn unique codes on packaging substrates followed. The advantage is in the fact that the process doesn’t require extra materials like ink or labels, making the technology easy to integrate into existing production processes. Removing a laser mark is not impossible, but it is very labor intensive and difficult to achieve without marring the surface of a package.
And while laser coders were originally expensive, they have since become more accessible.
They are also ideal for countering product diversion—a practice where authentic products are sold through unauthorized channels—a tactic almost as damaging to a brand as counterfeiting.



Consumer packaged goods companies have begun using holography on tamper-evident bands because such bands have, in the past, been fairly simple to fake. The addition of holography simply makes them more costly to imitate.
Holograms are also frequently found on sports paraphernalia, clothing and other high-end items that are likely targets for forgers. According to Eric Bartholomay of Toray USA, off-the-shelf holograms were often the choice for brand owners in the past. Though, he says, Toray, which makes the films used in hologram applications, has seen that change in recent years.
As counterfeiters became more adept at faking holograms, he says, sporting good manufacturers have switched to custom holograms designed to complement their products as well as protect them.
Brands like Nike have also learned to change the design periodically to make the system even more difficult to replicate. Nike’s MoJo golf balls, for instance, have gone through at least three iterations of their custom hologram in about 18 months. The message to “brand pirates” is that they will have to make a significant investment in custom holography to try and counterfeit MoJo golf balls.
One drawback sometimes cited for holography as a primary anti-counterfeiting measure is that, although consumers can see that a hologram is present, they have no way of knowing that it is authentic. The value of a hologram as a deterrent, though, is that it is expensive for the counterfeiter to create. And, depending on the price point of the product, that may be enough; though most experts advise layering holograms with covert anti-counterfeiting efforts.


RFID… plus

RFID coding does not, by itself, protect against piracy, though major pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer use it for that purpose. Sure, RFID tags can be monitored throughout the distribution and retail chain to locate products, but the presence of an RFID tag doesn’t necessarily guarantee product authenticity for consumers; counterfeiters have proved adept at copying RFID tag numbering schemes to create fake tags.
A new class of flexo-printed inks, however, by such companies as the Canada-based XINK Laboratories, has integrated taggants made by Creo to the ink on RFID antennaes. Such tags can easily be verified as authentic using a simple pen-sized reader. According to the company, the technology elevates XINK-printed RFID tags into the same league of security as currency.
Another new technology comes from Aveso Inc., a spin-off of Dow Chemical. The company has developed labels that carry covert electronic billboards that can be activated by a radio frequency source or through touch, making the hidden billboard apparent so consumers and brand owners can verify the authenticity of the package.


Changing practices

Given all these options, it hardly seems possible for counterfeiters to succeed. But think of the goldmine waiting for them if they do, producing what they purport to be branded products at a fraction of the cost, namely because they don’t have to account for the research and development costs, product and package design costs, or market research costs that you do.
To best keep counterfeiters at bay, experts advise using an array of methods.
“You have to use multiple protective techniques, and you have to keep changing them,” says Stan Hart of S. G. Hart & Associates LLC, a leading brand protection consulting firm.
You should also change some of the seemingly innocent practices in your workflow, he says. When you plan a new package, for example, take care not to send multiple samples of your inks, board, graphics, etc., to multiple vendors. Keep those elements close to your vest.
And don’t forget about your customers. They are your product’s lifeblood, so you must consider how to assure them that the package in their hands is genuine.
The most stringent anti-counterfeiting efforts, with multiple covert layers of protection, are mostly directed toward the counterfeiter. What measures do you take to help consumer decide whether a package is authentic?
In the end, those “old-fashioned” devices—logos, graphics, value statements, slogans—all of the symbols that your brand has accrued over the years—still have enormous value to you and to your customers.
It’s what defines the brand that you are taking such extensive, expensive measures to protect. Because it is ultimately the assurance you offer consumers. BP


brand protection

The brazen cry of packaging counterfeiters is, Catch me if you can!”

Worldwide brand theft is costing companies more than $400 billion annually in revenues and is growing at an alarming rate of up to 15% a year. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 10% of the global drug market is made up of fake products in fake packages. Not only does counterfeiting lead to revenue loss and brand defamation, it undermines security, placing consumers directly in harm’s way.

But the good news is this–since October, 2002, a team funded by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)–made up of members from the Physical Science Laboratory at New Mexico State, Axess Technologies, Reconnaissance International and Sigma 4 Inc.–has been assessing a range of technologies to wage war against counterfeiting.

Four leading technologies that help thwart brand theft and counterfeiting include:

* Radio frequency identification (RFID)

* Chipless RFID and coded taggants

* Latent image technology (LIT)

* Optically variable devices (OVDs)

Low cost RFID on the rise

Knowing where your products are is “as valuable as knowing your bank balance.” And keeping track of your products can keep counterfeiters at bay.

RFID tags or chips allow brand owners, packagers and retailers to “talk” to their products from the beginning to the end of the supply chain. Tags can contain a range of information about a product, including manufacturing and packaging facility locations, packaging line runs, date codes, product ingredients, packaging supplier data and logos. Tags can be sandwiched between layers of plastic or paperboard used for packaging and paper or film used for labels. RFID readers are then placed all along the supply chain, following a product and its package ensuring its authenticity and safety.

However, one of RFID’s major stumbling blocks has been high cost. Typically, RFID chips can run up to $1.00 of more per tag. But as chips get thinner and smaller, it is estimated that RFID costs will dip down to the 10 to 20 cents per chip range. RFID experts say that cost will lessen as RFID manufacturers develop cheaper tags while increasing production volumes.

One current case in point illustrates the scope of RFID and its potential decrease in cost. The Gillette Co. recently announced the purchase of 500 million low-cost RFID tags (some sources say the tags cost around 10 cents apiece but this price could not be confirmed) from Alien Technology for tagging cases and packages of expensive razors.

This is the first major commercial order for products incorporating an electronic product code (EPC), which was developed by the Auto-ID Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This technology is manufactured using Alien Technology’s patented “Fluidic Self-Assembly,” allowing tiny integrated circuits to be cost-effectively handled and packaged into EPC tags in large volumes.

An RFID EPC tagged label is affixed to a package and can be used to track a product through its lifecycle. EPC tagged labels are more than a radio “bar code” because they contain individual item serial numbers, manufacturing location, date codes, product to package comparison and other supply chain data.

Getting ready for a potential RFID explosion, SATO America Inc., in conjunction with CCL Label is currently offering a way to produce labels with RFID capability. SATO’s RFID kit for its CL408e and CL412e printers allows the printing of labels embedded with RFID chips. The kit also programs the chips by downloading product/packaging information directly into the chip and activating it at the same time as printing.

Where’s the chips?

Mention RFID and packagers may automatically think in terms of chips/tags, unwieldy readers and high cost. But a chipless RFID technology has been developed and licensed by a company called Inkode. The Inkode system involves embedding tiny metal fibers–called Taggents[TM]–into plastic and paper or any other materials that radio frequency waves can penetrate. These microscopic particles are energized by low power and respond when “excited” by radio frequency waves.

Used as a checks and balance system, Taggents can be embedded in the same area as a bar code on a package. Using a unique serial number, you can ensure there is a match between the Taggent and the bar code and what is supposed to be in the package. The serial number can be linked to a database, which can house supply chain information for packaging tracking purposes.

Two potential packaging applications where Inkode Taggents can be embedded are in meat labels to trace the product back to the meat packing company and pharmaceutical labels as a way of authenticating drugs. The cost for Taggents can be as low as one cent depending on the application and volume needed.

Similar to Inkode Taggents are microparticle taggants, which are encoded data-infused microparticles that can be incorporated into packaging materials such as paper, coatings, film and adhesives.