Electronics, apparel, and pharmaceuticals are only some of the products counterfeiters try to fake. Using nanotechnology, Professor Evangelyn Alocilja, a biosystems engineer at Michigan State University, has developed an innovative product authentication process that may help consumers determine if a product is genuine or fake. “Science of Innovation” is produced in partnership with the National Science Foundation and the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Science of Innovation- Anti-Counterfeiting Devices
ANN CURRY, reporting:
Apple. Gucci. Coach. Expensive and coveted designer brands. But are they genuine or fake?
JEREMY WILSON (Michigan State University): They are, in fact, counterfeit.
CURRY: From knock-off glasses and hand bags to fake pharmaceuticals, counterfeiters manufacture and sell inferior goods using another company's trademark- the brand name, logo, or other visible features that help consumers identify the source of a product or service. Product counterfeiting is illegal and worldwide, with estimated costs to the global economy in the hundreds of billions of dollars annually.
TOM LLAMAS (file): Federal agents have arrested more than 2 dozen people.
CURRY: It's a problem that federal agencies take seriously, confiscating goods and breaking up counterfeiting organizations that sometimes fund drug cartels and organized crime.
WILSON: It is such a difficult crime to measure, but most experts agree that the problem is enormous and seems to be growing over time.
CURRY: Jeremy Wilson is a criminal justice professor at Michigan State University and the director of A-CAPPP, an Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection Program at MSU, which draws expertise from across campus to help develop anti-counterfeiting strategies.
WILSON: What is unique about our program is that we bring in the intellectual resources of not just criminal justice, but supply chain and communications and engineering and law and virtually every discipline here at MSU.
CURRY: Wilson and A-CAPPP found a strategy for detecting counterfeit goods in the lab of Evangelyn Alocilja, a bio systems engineering professor doing research in nanotechnology.
EVANGELYN ALOCILJA (Michigan State University): We need to have a way of verifying that the product is the true product. And one of them is embedding some kind of tracing material, some kind of authentication material.
CURRY: Alocilja, who has received research funding from the National Science Foundation, had previously developed innovative biosensor technology that detects bacteria and contaminants in food and water. Searching for a way to detect fraudulent goods, Alocilja realized that nano-scale particles, also called nanotaggants, used in her food and water safety biosensor could also be used for an entirely new purpose - they could be embedded into products and traced to verify product authenticity.
ALOCILJA: When we started looking at overt and covert type of markers, one of the major findings is that nanoparticles and nanotaggants are actually very successful in being embedded into packaging materials.
CURRY: Alocilja synthesizes the anti-counterfeiting nanoparticles using dextrin and gold chloride. Gold retains its properties through the production process, and because it's considered non-toxic, it can be added to food or drugs as well as product packaging. As the gold chloride is transformed into gold nanoparticles, the color changes. The gold nanoparticles are only 10 to 30 nanometers in diameter. A human hair is about 100,000 nanometers in diameter.
ALOCILJA: By the color, we can tell their size. The gold particles are 13 to 15 nanometers in diameter.
CURRY: The gold nanoparticles can be uniquely designed by adding synthetic DNA fragments, using the four base materials in human genetics- adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine. By changing the DNA sequence and length, the nanotaggant is given a unique code, which makes it difficult for counterfeiters to reproduce. Different taggants can also be created for different products and companies.
ALOCILJA: Using our DNA code, you can serialize your product and you can trace back to your product.
CURRY: Alocilja's biosensor can trace or detect the nanotaggants quickly. If the taggant is present, the product is authentic. If not, the product is counterfeit. The nanotaggants can also be used to detect a contaminant in the product or test the concentration of an active ingredient. This is especially helpful in protecting consumers from counterfeit pharmaceuticals, which can have deadly consequences.
ALOCILJA: And so there are a host of open opportunities for us just because we have developed the nanotaggants and then the biosensor.
CURRY: Alocilja has been granted several patents by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for her gold nanotaggant and biosensor inventions. In 2012, she started a company to develop biosensors for use in the food and water safety markets.
ALOCILJA: The technology is developing so fast, and very flexible as well, that maybe next year or two years from now, we have a new set of applications for these nanotaggants.
CURRY: Alocilja's innovations make new use of existing technologies as strategies in anti-counterfeiting and product protection.
WILSON: And that is really the foundation of our program, bringing together people with diverse backgrounds and trainings who can complement each other and work on solving the problem in a way that’s comprehensive.
CURRY: Working together, they may help consumers and legal authorities settle the question - is it genuine or fake?
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