Product piracy: Nanotech sails to the rescue

Printable nanotags foil peddlers of fake goods

There’s a global crisis bedevilling manufacturers and brands – the illicit trade in counterfeit goods. Everything from medicines to cigarettes to luxury goods and electronics; and the fakes are generally inferior in quality and performance, leading to genuine health and safety risks. Fake drugs, cloned car seats and cheap knockoffs can lead to personal injury, even death.

To say nothing of the financial implications. Global trade in counterfeit goods exceeds US$ 1 trillion, and rising. The growth of platforms like Amazon and Alibaba has fueled the trade in fakes, and now it’s exploding. Which is why brand owners and manufacturers of quality products have invested enormous amounts in efforts to prevent counterfeit sales and to prove authenticity. They’ve tried everything from holograms to barcodes and even RFID chips. But visible codes can be cloned, and the chips are costly and often not suitable for particular products.

Now there’s a solution. Microscopic physical tags that respond to an electronic scanner with a unique signature. They’re called radio-frequency (RF) nanoelectromechanical devices, and can be mass produced like computer chips or 3D-printed. And because they’re nano-sized and transparent, they’re effectively invisible.

But the best part is they don’t need to be hard-coded. Random variations in the fabrication process give each one a unique RF resonance signature, which can’t be cloned. It’s like a natural fingerprint, which can be read, but not reproduced. So, all the original producer has to do is apply it to the product and record the code and hey presto! You have an invisible tag that guarantees authenticity. Cheaply.

With every unique nanotag recorded on the blockchain, it’s simple for automated scanners to authenticate any item, from credit cards to artworks to car parts. And it can’t be hacked. Farewell fake goods and pirate products. Nanotech has solved the problem!

Image credit: University of Florida

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