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  March 14th, 2023 | Written by

How To Use Technology To Avoid Counterfeits in the Supply Chain

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The global counterfeiting problem is insane. Enterprising individuals sell some $1.7 trillion to $4.5 trillion worth of fake goods yearly, making it about the tenth biggest economy in the world.

Counterfeiting is, of course, an age-old problem. It’s been there almost as early as the bona fide market it exploits. The worst thing about it is its ability to compromise human health. Due to fake drugs, at least 250,000 children die each year globally.  

Counterfeiters have also developed impeccable skills, changing colors like chameleons to adapt to evolving consumer behavior and anti-counterfeiting measures. Therefore, manufacturers and stakeholders must remain ten steps ahead with the most cutting-edge technologies in their fight for intellectual property, the business community, and public safety. 

Types of Anti-Counterfeiting Technologies 

Counterfeiting technologies allow users to determine the authenticity of consumer goods or whether they have been subject to fraudulent activities. Several methods may be employed to do this. However, most tools or gadgets work by performing three essential functions: authentication, tracing, and anti-tampering.  

While each anti-counterfeiting technology is unique, all methods use marking devices. These dictate how the technology should work. These devices also come under the following main categories:   


Electronic anti-counterfeiting technologies use electronic data tools that allow physical goods to be uniquely identified, authenticated, and monitored. These machines either supply the defining information itself or provide access to a database where the data is stored. Below are commonly used electronic technologies to combat consumer goods counterfeiting.

  • Radiofrequency identification (RFID) tags. These tools use radio frequencies to identify a product and determine whether it is fake. They come with tiny microchips attached to the items, and RFID readers pick these up. Many sellers often only use RFID tags for expensive goods because of their size, cost, and complicated functions.
  • New Field Communication (NFC). NFC technology also uses radio frequencies to allow an NFC-enabled device to detect an authentic or fake product. The process involves using an NFC reader as the key controller of the communication between the NFC reader chip and the NFC tag attached to the good. 
  • Electronic seals. A broken seal is a common sign that goods have been tampered with. Electronic seals offer the added advantage of recording product data and real-time tracking. These tools are often used on closed freight containers, thanks to their ability to process e-signatures and store other vital information, such as route details. More importantly, tampering with these seals automatically sets off alarms.  
  • Magnetic stripes. Magnetic stripes, usually found on the back of ID and payment cards, contain identifying user data that card readers pick up after swiping. At the same time, these stripes can also be attached directly to a physical object for authentication and tracking purposes.  
  • Contact Chips. This technology involves implanting a microchip, which carries unique product data, into a plastic card that works like a magnetic stripe card. Aside from storing and preserving data, contact chips can also be helpful for product authentication.  


As their name suggests, these technologies function by marking items with unique patterns, codes, or other identifiers. However, their purpose goes beyond identification. Marking technologies have a more critical role to play as product authenticators.  

These markings work against counterfeiting in one of two ways. It secures a product through the ink marking itself or the information it provides, such as a serial number. Authenticating a product using the ink’s properties is as simple as checking for visual signs of tampering. 

At the same time, the markings can prevent counterfeiting just by being near-impossible to clone or reproduce. Sometimes, these markings help track a product by allowing them to be registered from one point to another in the supply chain.  

Many types of marking technologies are in use today. But the most popular are those which provide 

visual signs of tampering. There are three reasons for this: they come in various types, are cost-friendly, and don’t need much to use. Just a pair of eyes or a basic smartphone is all it takes. Examples of these marking technologies include watermarks, micro text, and optical memory bands.  


Chemical anti-counterfeiting technologies rely on special substances to mark goods. They identify objects through the random patterns imprinted on them after these items undergo specific processes. 

Because of the complicated nature of the marking process, laboratory tests are necessary to read and verify the imprinted markers. It’s also why the resulting patterns or codes are tough to reproduce. 

While creating and attaching chemical markers is cheap, the devices used to read them are pretty pricey. Moreover, verification can only be performed in laboratories, making spot checks unrealistic. Common examples of these technologies include DNA coding, glue coding, and surface fingerprinting.  


In preventing counterfeiting, mechanical technologies rely on objects’ physical properties to install anti-tampering features. They are often used for authentication when working alone. However, they can also identify and track goods when combined with other technologies. For instance, unique identifiers on a product’s label make the item trackable.  

Mechanical methods can use different label types classified based on their physical characteristics. Computerized labels typically have to undergo authentication through an automatic tool, such as a barcode reader. Other types of automated solutions, however, rely on visual signs.   

Mechanical anti-counterfeiting technologies are some of the more affordable options today. The process of product identification, tracking, or authentication is also relatively quick since few changes to the production process are usually required.  

Digital media  

Any information designed to be read by machines is considered digital media. These include digital videos and images, e-books, video games, etc. Since these properties exist digitally, the methods to protect, identify, and trace them are also possible digitally.  

Today, business owners typically use two key types of digital anti-counterfeiting technologies: digital rights management (DRM) and automatic content recognition (ACR). DRM systems protect audiovisual intellectual properties from counterfeiting, while ACR technologies detect content in a media file while it plays. Examples of content recognition technologies that secure digital media are fingerprinting, hashing, and digital watermarks. 


While blockchain is a relatively new technology, it has proven its worth in fighting counterfeiting. Some companies have even developed their own product IDs to track supply chains. While no official guidelines exist for using blockchain to combat counterfeiting, several sectors have begun using it. These include agribusiness, luxury goods, and electronics. 

What’s particularly interesting about blockchain technology is how it eliminates the need for trust between the parties involved in a transaction. Everything takes place quickly, transparently, and safely with the participants not even knowing each other. 

Instead, the transaction is validated by everyone in the network and cryptographically sealed to create a new block. Furthermore, every block carries encrypted information from the last block, making blockchain transactions easy to verify. 

Because all participants have access to all data in a blockchain, anyone’s record or history is open for scrutiny. As a result, it becomes virtually impossible. 

Since all participants share all data in the blockchain, anyone can look into their records and history anytime, making cheating impossible. Overall, this technology fights counterfeiting by allowing manufacturers to create and store immutable digital records. Experts call it a “permanent ledger,” which improves businesses’ ability to monitor their products. 

How To Determine the Most Appropriate Counterfeiting Technology for an Application

Despite the proliferation of counterfeit products, the technology sector offers many options for intellectual property owners and businesses. Of course, the legal industry is also solid, with more than enough laws protecting copyright owners and the like. 

However, finding tough lawyers for counterfeiting cases may be more complex than searching for reputable family legal firms like Nussbaum Family Law. After all, the world has more issues involving families than counterfeiters.    

In any case, each type of anti-counterfeiting solution has its own unique aspects that make it suitable for specific applications. Choosing the wrong technology wastes resources and gives users a false sense of security who need help understanding their needs. So, when selecting an anti-counterfeiting technology for a specific application, consider the following:

  • Real-time data. Anti-counterfeiting technologies may or may not require the use of real-time data. For example, RFID users must be online to gather the necessary information to track consumer goods. However, chemical anti-counterfeiting technologies like DNA coding are usually done in laboratories and often don’t need real-time data. 
  • Tougher technologies. No anti-counterfeiting technology is perfect. However, one type of solution that can seriously deter counterfeiting is to make the process prohibitively expensive. A more rigid solution should be in order if it takes little work or money to make a workable duplicate of an anti-counterfeit feature. 
  • Speed of results. Some applications require fast results for authentication tests, such as freight businesses. Others can wait awhile, such as pharmaceutical or agricultural companies using DNA coding. 
  • Authentication equipment. Most anti-counterfeiting applications do not need special equipment, but some do. An example is pharmaceutical authentication, which requires elaborate laboratory setups, including sophisticated equipment.  

Counterfeiters will only keep evolving, and so will their tricks. Solutions that work today may no longer be functional in the future. Considering how fast counterfeiters move, manual authentication techniques will not cut it.  

This is where technologies draw the line. Depending on the application, sellers may employ various solutions to reduce the incidence of product counterfeiting. With the help of the government and business organizations, the fight for intellectual property rights is always winnable.