The battle between manufacturers and those who would look to produce and sell counterfeit versions of their products is one that often rages over global supply chains, utilising a whole range of technological innovations in sprawling game of cat and mouse.
As the process of economic globalisation have seen many companies globalise their production and distribution chains, with materials coming from place, manufacture taking place in another before the product is shipped out to the various market places where they are sold. This has been accompanied by a similar global explosion in the scope, scale and profitability of the trade in counterfeit goods.
In 2009 the OECD estimated that counterfeiting accounted for 1.95% of all world trade in 2007, or roughly around $250 billion. It is estimated that this share could rise to 2% and a corresponding growth in the value of the counterfeit market to over $1.7 trillion.
Counterfeiting is not only something that is a concern of the Apples and the Adidas’ of this world; it can negatively affect the productivity of small and medium businesses alike. The key to combating the problem lies in a pooling together of effort and resources of manufacturers, suppliers and consumers to make sure that they products that are available are legitimate and of the highest quality.
What is the easiest way to do this, the one that involves a resource that many of us are likely to have? Well, in fact, counterfeiting can be effectively guarded against with little more than a smartphone.
What are the most commonly counterfeited products?
While it is certainly possible for fairly convincing fakes to be made of the majority of products that you can purchase throughout a leisurely stroll through your local shopping centre, it is only certain kinds of products that are going to be profitable for fakers. These are usually going to be the products that are connected in some way to aspiration or high-end sophistication, to the brands that represent status through ownership and the indicators of wealth in a society. To this end, it is more likely that the most commonly counterfeited products are going to be things like:
- Rolex watches are one of the most widely counterfeited brands, with a roaring global back market in operation for around 20 years
- Louis Vuitton is a huge prestigious brand names and as such is easily the most counterfeited brand in Europe
- Zippo lighters
- Any product with Olympic or World Cup related branding
- Any prestigious products that are tied to a specific geography, such as authentic Emmental cheese
Combating counterfeiting with a smartphone
So what strategies are open to companies, product manufacturers, distributors, retailers and consumers who want to use the smartphone in their pockets to be able to verify that products come from where they say they do and that everyone is getting what they paid for?
The idea has been gaining popularity in the last few years and a number of related yet distinct strategies have emerged:
The ‘industry standard’ route
The first strategy is personified by the app ‘Authenticateit’ and its track and trace system. The emphasis of this app is that it allows companies to track their own products through the manufacturing, distribution and retail processes in the supply chain, ensuring that retailers can verify that what turns up on their doorstep is the real deal. Consumers can also use the app to make sure the products they buy correspond to the database of legitimate products.
Authenticateit makes a big deal of being fully compatible with the GS1 system of global standards system which is used to ensure global parity in the management of supply chains.
The crowdsourcing route
Another take on this idea of using the power of apps to combat counterfeit products comes from the company BrandBounty. This app does not boast the serious industry standard approach, instead turning to the ideas of using competitions and promotions to encourage consumers to help root out the fakes and the forgeries.
The idea is fairly simple: brands sponsor contests and certain kinds of reward programmes for consumers who can provide them with intelligence on any counterfeit versions of their products. In the language of the company the basic premise is to turn “smart consumers” into “brand watchdogs.”
The ‘brand to customer’ route
Another app, this one called Authicode takes a route that is aimed at linking the brand to the customer directly. The process starts off when brands join the scheme and input the codes of the genuine products they are about to release into the wider world. The customer in the shop then scans the product with their smartphone and receives an authentication message from the brand themselves detailing where the product came from. The system is cloud based with the app being a central point while individual brands technically run their own platforms within Authicode’s cloud network.
The ‘company-specific’ route
The final route to go down is the one where individual companies create their own apps that are only concerned with checking the authenticity of products within their own brand range. An example of this would be Lexmark’s ID app that allows customers to check whether or not the security ink cartridges they have just bought are in fact the real deal.
There are likely to be many more ways to utilise your smartphone to do your part in the global battle against shoddy counterfeiting and inferior replicas, but for now these are your main options. Each one is suited to a different kind of person or company but they are trying to create a shared resource that can enable both brands and consumers to make sure that both are getting what they really want.
What do you think about these various smartphone based strategies? Do you know of any others?
Resource Box: James Duval is a tech savvy writer who enjoys learning and sharing the latest security systems.