Bosch introduces new solution to combat counterfeiting




Secure Product Fingerprint in short

The primary function of the Secure Product Fingerprint, a patented solution developed by the Bosch Corporate Research team in China, is to ensure product authenticity. It generates a unique “fingerprint” of a product and stores it in the cloud. Customers can then scan and verify a product using a smartphone, protecting against counterfeits. In addition, it provides track & trace capabilities that improve management of distribution channels and customer relationships. The Secure Product Fingerprint is currently available in China.

Global trade doesn’t always present a bright picture. Case in point: the global counterfeit market. In 2017, the global value of counterfeit goods amounted to 1.2 Trillion US Dollars, by 2020 it is expected to climb to 1.82 Trillion Dollars. A boom in counterfeit goods does have a major impact, with an estimated 323 Billion Dollars in losses being attributable to online counterfeiting alone in 2017. Alongside direct revenue losses, companies suffer reputational damage that can have long-lasting consequences. Their customers simply lose confidence in brand quality due to negative experience with fake products they believed to be genuine. This has forced companies to go to great lengths to protect their brands.

How do you ensure that only authentic products represent your brand in the market? With the launch of the Secure Product Fingerprint, Bosch Software Innovations has now introduced an innovative solution to combat counterfeiting. Developed by the Bosch Corporate Research team in China, this solution not only offers the means of distinguishing genuine products from counterfeits; by establishing a direct connection between manufacturer and customer, it also enables additional use cases.

Infographic showing the different anti-counterfeiting measures that the Secure Product Fingerprint Provides.Source: Bosch Software Innovations

The Secure Product Fingerprint offers two means of distinguishing genuine products from counterfeits.

Artificial Fingerprint: QR code with added security

Over the past few years, various ways of ensuring product authenticity have emerged – from scratch-off stickers and holograms to QR codes. While these methods have their advantages, they all also have their limitations. Scratch-off stickers are not particularly user-friendly. Hologram labels provide a straightforward way of checking if a product is genuine, but they are expensive to produce. Using QR codes is relatively cheap, but they are also easy to copy.

Enter the Artificial Fingerprint, one of the two anti-counterfeit measures the Secure Product Fingerprint solution offers. The Artificial Fingerprint builds upon a standard QR code and enhances it with embedded micro-features for added security. While in theory it might be possible to copy an enhanced QR code, this is unlikely to be economically viable – the cost of equipment required to do so exceeds one million euros. The Artificial Fingerprint thus alleviates the problem of QR codes being easily copied while retaining one of their main benefits: they are cheap to produce.

Manufacturers who want to make use of the Artificial Fingerprint can simply order the enhanced QR code labels, which are pre-registered in the database, stick them to their products and link them to the backend services in the cloud.

Photo of the enhanced QR codes used in the artificial fingerprint solution which is part of the Secure Product Fingerprint.Source: Bosch

The Artificial Fingerprint solution builds upon a standard QR code. It provides added security thanks to its embedded micro-features.

Customers buying the product then simply scan the code with their smartphone; algorithms in the cloud take care of the rest. Since smartphone cameras are able to pick up the additional micro-features, validation does not require any special equipment. Customers have various options: they can call up a dedicated smartphone app, validate via WeChat, or use a standard QR code scanner. After scanning, the user is redirected to a webpage to validate the product.

Natural Fingerprint: a closer look at the product’s surface

What kind of camera should be installed on the production line?

It is recommended that product manufacturers use an industrial camera to ensure high quality images. Cameras meeting the requirements have a resolution of >10 Mega pixels, industrial lenses, and illumination equipment. Bosch Building Technologies, for example, has suitable cameras on offer. We are also happy to provide you with the hardware if you so require.

When comparing two visually identical products, we can safely assume that they are not clearly distinguishable from each other. But while it might be hard to differentiate them at first glance, a closer look reveals that every item possesses some unique features. Take industrial pumps as an example — there are many processes involved in their manufacture, from carving through to polishing. All of these processes leave traces on the surface that make pumps uniquely distinguishable.

These small variations form the basis of the Natural Fingerprint, the second component of the Secure Product Fingerprint solution. The way it works closely resembles the Artificial Fingerprint, except that in this case the product itself is used for validation. To implement the Natural Fingerprint, the manufacturer has to specify a surface area of the product to be used for verification and then take a picture of it. This can be done by installing a camera at the production line. The camera is then set up to automatically take a picture of the designated “fingerprint” area. The image is stored in the cloud and used for comparison later on.

When customers receive the product, they take a picture of the same area – again, a regular smartphone camera suffices. The image is then uploaded to the cloud where an algorithm compares it to the original “fingerprint” to validate the product. This method guarantees the highest protection against counterfeiting.

Additional benefits: from track & trace to CRM

Application areas of the Secure Product Fingerprint are not limited to anti-counterfeiting. The fingerprint can also be used to establish a direct connection and interaction between manufacturers, their channel partners – distributors and retailers – and customers.

The “fingerprint”, a product’s unique ID, makes it possible to trace the product from the manufacturer through the distribution channel to the customer, and even beyond – to warranty service providers. Manufacturers could encourage their channel partners to scan their products’ “fingerprints”, for example, by providing special incentives. In return manufacturers gain valuable insights into stock volumes, the movement of goods, and retailers’ performance. In this way, the Secure Product Fingerprint can help to optimize and improve sales channel management.