May 23, 2018
How number systems on standalone packaging can rather be counterfeit-enabler ?
Number system is known traditional way for product authentication either in form of serialization or randomized codes. The strongest argument in favor of number system to achieve uniqueness is that it is cheap with quick adoption, and this is true also. Thus number system becomes viable option for low cost high volume products. However there are other aspects requiring deep dive in facts otherwise number system becomes rather counterfeit-enabler. This is hard to believe given when various bodies including GS1 standard talks about serialization as regulatory compliance. But finer aspect that is often overlooked that serialization is being enforced as minimum regulatory compliance feature and in form of parent–child relationship between unique numbers on primary, secondary and tertiary packaging along with other security features. Further trace-ability and geographical diversion are very different problem than product-counterfeiting.
This post takes further deep dive in specific context of standalone packaging. Number-system on standalone packaging is entirely different proposition from number-system with hierarchical relation between primary/secondary/tertiary packaging. Number system is based on assumption that multiple authentication from different geography indicated counterfeiting of product. Brand owners have failed to stop counterfeiting even after implementing number system on standalone packaging. First weakness that breaks the randomized coding is leakage of number-set file in connivance with insiders, vendors or contract-manufacturer liquidating all security in one go. But leaving apart insider threat a quick encounter with counterfeiter revealed how they can easily do repeat authentication without requiring physical access to actual packaging from different locations for same genuine code causing false alarm on centralized authentication portal triggering ground action, hogging physical and financial bandwidth of brand protection team eventually making alarms from number-system insignificant.
If duplicate unit is sold earlier, original will be marked as suspect and this becomes counter-productive to the brand owner and genuine retailer. Genuine units can be repeat authenticated. There is no instant tangible proof that fake is indeed fake making enforcement before hostile crowd very difficult and in-efficient. Another stop-gap is about providing number-system under a scratch layer however those gets scratched even before product reached retailers OR can be seen easily under UV/IR illuminations.Number system gained popularity when there were no easily verifiable non clone-able technologies available which is no longer true or smartphones and internet had very low penetration for common public.
Based on the above facts, we can safely conclude that number-system is an appropriate measure for low-cost, low-margin products with additional suitability for tracking geographical diversion of product along with hierarchical inventory tracking, it is definitely counter-productive as an anti-counterfeit strategy. It is rather advisable to use standard tracking technologies like barcode/qrcode coupled with a definitive anti-counterfeit technology to achieve a holistic solution.