Counterfeit is an increasing phenomenon, and it is getting more and more professional too. Businesses which are harmed by it have to make extra efforts to protect their interests as well as their consumers’.
Counterfeit is a growing business all over the world. International counterfeiting networks now sell their products with almost the same diligence as the original producers. For the latter, counterfeiting is a most dangerous competition. Fakes are therefore tracked down and networks are dismantled with the help of the authorities. But the profusion of counterfeit is hardly something you stop for good. This is why some producers prefer to work on security systems. Such a constant enhancement of the technology serves one purpose, that of making counterfeiters’ life harder.
Playing cat and mouse
“Counterfeit clothing, both fashion and sportswear, is very prevalent in Europe”, says the OECD in a 1998 report entitle The Economic Impact of Counterfeiting. The situation has not much change since then. Globalisation has spread even further, and more goods are flowing in Europe from China which remains the world capital of counterfeit. Nowadays, the clothing industry keeps playing cat and mouse with counterfeit, always finding new solutions to prevent them from making good copies of their products. Lately, researchers in Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, thought about a new solution to differentiate knockoffs. “Clothing manufacturers could start using the thread right away to put a signature pattern in their garments”, researcher Christian Müller says, “the equipment needed to see the pattern is fairly simple”.
In the automobile industry as well, producers are concerned with providing ways to identify the origin and quality of products. But the stake is then to catch the fakes and to prevent them from spreading on the market. This might prove to be hard in some country. In the U.S.A. for instance, repairs services are a big market and consumer could easily be deceived. But the authorities are watching the market closely and monitoring traceability. In February 2013, three people sold “automobile replacement parts equivalent of designer knockoffs, but represented to their unsuspecting customers that they were buying the ‘name brand’”, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said. The FBI itself was in charge of the investigation. Some goods might be easily copied and imitation might be difficult to prevent but authorities do not lack of determination to track them down.
In many cases, fighting against counterfeit has a lot to do with chasing and catching. Hence producers rather implements tracking solutions and devices – like serial number or special labels – to help the police catch counterfeiters. But some products do carry a bigger risk and needs extra care. Producers of bank notes and medicine for instance know they have the responsibility to make counterfeit always more complicated, in order to prevent it from happening at all. For that purpose, they therefore have an extensive resort to technology.
Complexity is an actual nightmare for counterfeiters. On the contrary, whenever a copy of a valuable good might prove easy to sell, there will be someone to fake it. And this includes dangerous and highly regulated industries. “We have seen counterfeit medicines manufactured in filthy and deplorable conditions”, vice president of global security at Pfizer’s, Matthew Bassiur says. “Samples of counterfeit Viagra tested by our labs have contained pesticides, wallboard, commercial paint and printer ink”, he goes on. In spite of the obvious danger, the World Health Organisation assesses that counterfeit stand for 10% of the global market. Counterfeiters manage to sell such poor copies mostly because there are flaunts in the quality control and traceability system. Hence entire industries now try to make that kind of flaunts disappear.
Being one of the top companies in the world for security printing, the French Oberthur Fiduciaire gives a good idea of how technology is used to prevent counterfeiting attempt. Oberthur Fiduciaire prints banknotes and security documents for dozens of countries in the world. The company does so while always keeping the obligation of preventing forgery in mind. To achieve that goal, Oberthur Fiduciaire has to be cleverer than counterfeiters. The firm therefore spends considerable amount of money in R&D and regularly comes up with new patents. “In 2010, we registered 6 new patents for banknote securities” Oberthur Fiduciaire says on its website, “one of them, Jasper is already internationally recognised as an innovative and efficient defence against counterfeit”.
Technology is a weapon against counterfeiters because they can hardly emulate it at all. But in order to work, that technology strategy has to be visible and recognisable. In the medicine industry, molecules are of course the results of years of research, but their unique quality does not necessarily prevent fakes from selling. In the U.S.A but also in some African countries like Ghana, Nigeria or Rwanda, use of information technologies is encouraged to fight efficiently against drug counterfeit. “U.S. FDA is encouraging the use of RFID”, RFID Arena explains, “the technology identify all individual drug packages with the help of RFID readers and RFID tags”, small chipsets “containing information about the drug’s origin”. Kozhikote Jayan, director of pharmaceutical and life sciences at Hewlett-Packard Asia Pacific, helps labs improve their traceability with the help of RFID and GSP technologies. “Ultimately, RFID tags make business sense because they help in tracking the consignment at every stage”, he says.
The intensity of the anti-counterfeiting efforts depends on the risk. Fake branded clothes are not as harmful as fake branded medicine. In the first case, risk is mostly economical and restricted to a single company’s business whereas it is mostly human in the second. Besides, some industries have to take special measures to anticipate forgery. Security printers as Oberthur Fiduciaire would never last on the market if they were not able to ensure an efficient prevention against forgery. Hence some firms have to spend extra funds and take risk to be sure they will be able to sell their product and survive. All in all, counterfeit means extra cost and this is why it can be deadly to a company. Sometime a firm simply do not have the money to fight back against counterfeiters’ assault.