Using Holography to Battle Counterfeiting

 

According to some estimates, counterfeiting costs the global pharmaceutical industry billions of dollars each year. And U.S. pharmaceutical companies are not immune. In 1989, Glaxo Wellcome (then Glaxo) discovered that its ulcer-treatment drug Zantac distributed in the United Kingdom was being counterfeited. The dupe's packaging was so good, said a Glaxo representative, that it literally took a magnifying glass to prove that it was counterfeit. To prevent this from happening again, Glaxo started using a holographic tamper-evident closure seal for packages sent to the UK and told users that the appearance of a hologram denotes authenticity.

When used as part of packaging and labeling, holography makes it difficult to replicate or simulate packaging, says Lewis Kontnik, president of Reconnaissance International (Denver), the American secretariat for the International Hologram Manufacturers Association (IHMA). The occurrence of counterfeiting is increasing, reports the World Health Organization: one speaker at its 1992 workshop on counterfeit drugs estimated that 5% of the world's pharmaceuticals are counterfeit, posing a number of health threats.

But to combat illegal duplication of a product, companies need to do more than just incorporate holographic effects into packaging. Such accents, which can include type and graphic outlines, may catch a consumer's attention, but do little to prevent someone from devising a similar package. Kontnik recommends developing a unique holographic design that will be easily recognizable by users and healthcare practitioners. What companies need is a "visual cue of authenticity," says Kontnik.

But how does one come up with such a design? "Use the right tool for the job," says Kontnik. "That means working with a hologram supplier that is capable in the security area. IHMA also publishes a guide to specifying and sourcing security holograms."

Frank Shea of IHMA member Van Leer Metallized Products (Franklin, MA) agrees. "If you have a hologram on your package, it is like a security and tracking system for cars. If people know it is there, they'll go on to the next one."

In addition to using a unique hologram, Kontnik says it is important to register it with the Hologram Image Register, a three-year-old registry operated for IHMA by the Counterfeiting Intelligence Bureau (London). Says Kontnik: "Holograms are hard to make and tough to fake, so counterfeiters could go to a hologram manufacturer and ask them to make a hologram that belongs to another company. This way, if the hologram maker checks the registry, it will be able to prevent the counterfeiting."

Shea says that any security hologram maker does just that. "They catch several counterfeiters every year," he says. "Registering a hologram is a personal decision. The key concern is to choose the right security provider and design a program that addresses the concern with the proper package component or label."

The impetus for choosing holography may even be a legal one. "Courts ask companies whose products have been counterfeited, 'What are you doing to protect your product?'" says Shea. He compares the use of holograms to that of trademarks and patents. "You have got to build a history of protecting your product."

The advancement of printing and packaging technologies isn't benefiting only pharmaceutical packagers, it's also helping counterfeiters. With color printing technology widely available, anyone can duplicate colorful cartons and labels, so companies shouldn't rely on colorful designs alone to prevent counterfeiting. They must stay one technological step ahead of the counterfeiters, and that step is holography.

Glaxo Wellcome will be speaking at the upcoming Product Counterfeiting Protection conference in San Francisco, January 25­26, 1999. For more information, visit either http://www.ihma.org or http://www.reconnaissance-intl.com.

Daphne Allen
Editor
daphne.allen@cancom.com

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