Legend has it that the iconic Silly Putty toy was created by accident. During WW II, in order to remedy the wartime rubber shortage, the U.S. government funded research into synthetic rubber compounds. Researchers discovered that reacting boric acid with silicone oil produce a gooey, bouncy material. The substance did not suffice as a replacement for rubber, so one of the inventors proceeded to send samples to scientists all around the world, searching for a practical use.
While it failed to find a home in the science industry, Silly Putty became a toy industry sensation, to the tune of 300 million plastic eggs sold.
What’s this have to do with QR codes? A “Quick Response” code is a two-dimensional barcode that is encoded with data. If you own a smartphone, you can read a QR code. Just visit your phone’s app store and download any of the free QR readers.
Although initially designed in Japan to track automotive parts, if you are familiar with QR codes, it is probably in a marketing capacity. In which case, you are probably asking, “QR code? Is that still a thing?”
But when QR codes hit the marketing scene, they were all the rage. They connected the offline world to the to the online world, and put even more advertising information in the hands of consumers. But sadly, QR codes were somewhat mishandled in the marketing world. More often than not, codes were used incorrectly and inconveniently — placed in unscannable places or requiring proprietary scanners only good for specific codes.
And so, like the gooey offspring of boric acid and silicone oil, people began to think QR codes didn’t have a purpose. The industrial-looking codes are currently being replaced by the more aesthetically pleasing invisible ink and augmented-reality apps.
The Pharma industry, which never fully embraced QR codes in a marketing capacity anyway, may have found a much better fit for the technology: security and product authentication. As drug prices rise, pharma is seeing a significant increase in the manufacture and distribution of counterfeit medicines and medical devices. QR codes are affordable to create, covertly hold a ton of secure information and are easy to use — all helpful attributes in an anti-piracy device.
Document Security Systems, a developer of anti-counterfeiting, anti-fraud and authentication technologies, began beta testing a new product last February. AuthentiGuard is a patented iPhone application for authentication, targeted to major pharmaceutical companies worldwide.
Customized AuthentiMarks are printed using normal printing processes and placed on product packaging. The embedded, copy-resistant codes trigger the recording of various information (destination, expiration and serial number) while providing real-time status of validity. Users can read a product’s mark with their authorized smart phone and quickly determine a product’s authenticity.
The earlier generations of QR codes may have fallen flat in their endeavors to revolutionize product marketing, but if we reshape, repackage and rethink, they might just stick in the pharmaceutical industry.