This Could Be the Future of Fighting Counterfeits

Some situations make spotting fakes easy. That handbag sold from a sidewalk table probably isn't Louis Vuitton, and the sunglasses that go for a few dollars are definitely not Oakleys. But that's not always the case, especially when you're ordering a product online. Now researchers may have figured out an end run around counterfeiters.

Danish scientists at the University of Copenhagen have just released a study describing a virtually foolproof method for confirming a product's point of origin. The very short version is that manufacturers can give individual items a totally unique fingerprint, which can be verified by scanning a QR code. Each "tag" is generated by spraying a transparent ink which contains microparticles onto a label; since the microparticles will arrange themselves randomly, the label can't be reproduced.

Best of all, these anti-counterfeiting measures won't interfere with the quality of whatever it is you're buying. "You can put it on a wine bottle, a gold watch, a painting, whatever," said co-author Thomas Just Sørensen in a press release. "The label needn't be larger than a comma."

The research team sees this not just as a means of preventing counterfeit luxury and consumer goods from reaching well-meaning purchasers. The system's benefits could extend to pharmaceutical and medical sales, especially for those found online. "Today, consumers are not able to check for themselves whether an item is genuine or not," Sørensen said. "They must trust every step of the production and supply chain. Our system provides every step in this process with equal access to the system."

The new system — tested more than 9,700 times with no false positives — could hit the market within the next few years.