How brands can protect themselves from counterfeits with Sussex researchers
University of Sussex
Sep 14 | 4 minutes read
The e-commerce boom is accelerating the number of consumers turning to online shopping for their daily goods and services, including the sales of luxury items. The digital marketplace, however, has proven to be a double-edged sword.
While it serves as a convenient platform for customers, counterfeiters are also finding it increasingly easy to market and sell their products to millions of internet users.
The technology for counterfeiting goods is also getting increasingly advanced, giving rise to super fakes, or excellent quality fakes that make them difficult to distinguish from the original product.
For many brands and companies, however, the fight against counterfeit goods begins with investing in anti-counterfeiting technology. And that’s where researchers at the University of Sussex come in.
An anti-counterfeiting ink that protects brands
Led by Professor Marco Peccianti of the Emergent Photonics Lab (EPic), researchers at the University of Sussex are creating Terahertz Ink (THink) — an anti-counterfeiting ink — that serves as an invisible and difficult to detect watermark that uses terahertz technology.
Terahertz rays are a type of electromagnetic radiation. THink has been developed within a European Research Council project that carries the same name. It is currently in active development, is patent-pending, and is part of a partnership with Materials Physics Group at Sussex and the Advanced Material Development Limited.
What makes this ink unique is that it can be triggered to emit a peculiar invisible electromagnetic fingerprint without visible features. THink uses a novel technique that can help organisations stay a step ahead of counterfeiters.
Because terahertz technology is an emerging and growing field, its full potential has yet to be realised, making it ideal for companies who want to invest in this technology to help them stay ahead of the curve in protecting their goods from counterfeiters.
While this ink is inexpensive to produce, Professor Peccianti says its detection requires specific expertise and a very sophisticated approach. This makes it a prime technology that would interest brands — from luxury fashion houses to heavy machinery manufacturers — looking to bolster the security of their goods.
“One of the advantages of terahertz technology is that unless you know what you’re looking for, you won’t even know it’s there,” says Professor Peccianti. “The emission of THink is undetectable to the naked eye, and even to cameras.” THink makes attempts to replicate products challenging and expensive, which would act as a deterrent to counterfeiters.
It is also unique as it can be placed everywhere; once placed, the point becomes a terahertz emitter when appropriately excited. This is unique to THink as most sources of terahertz do not function this way.
THink is a terahertz source that can be applied in a liquid form across a variety of surfaces — be it a teapot, banknotes, vaccine vials, prized artworks, weapons, luggage, tables or even walls — and its deployment is no more complicated than standard ink printing.
THink can be designed to provide different emissions, including “Dummy” versions with no emission but a similar chemical composition and, most importantly, with the same visual appearance. This can be exploited to hide the information written with an emitting ink in a field of non-emitting ink.
While there are other anti-counterfeiting inks in the market, none quite work the way THink does, thanks to its ability to be written, erased and rewritten via electromagnetic means after it is printed on a surface. This means THink can embed information that can be erased.
Within the current terahertz solutions market, terahertz sources are typically not suitable for large-area deployment and are not “friendly” with other objects, unlike THink.
How THink can benefit companies
Sussex researchers can create customised inks for companies that can be printed onto a product. Fashion brands, for instance, can apply THink on their wearable products before it enters the market.
Professor Peccianti adds that watermarks on products can contain details about the entire import process — from where it was made, its distribution centres to details of the dealer. Most importantly, THink can also blend with products.
“We are confident that we can implement many aesthetic constraints, including integrating the ink into existing colours, which can be very important for companies,” he says.
There are types of anti-counterfeiting inks in the market, but in many cases their common denominator is that the related technology and expertise is becoming more and more accessible and cost-effective to replicate. THink, however, possess rare features, and while its deployment is very cost effective, its replication is challenged by several key hurdles.
Ultimately, THink may look like other inks and can be printed the same way, but it taps into a novel technology that represents the next new thing in the anti-counterfeiting market.