Apple has filed a US patent on a system designed to help authenticate its products based on etched 3D codes.
The patent application (No. 20130341400) describes using the variable depth codes on Apple products such as iPhones, iPads or MacBooks, as well as other electronic devices, which can be used to differentiate genuine and counterfeit products.
The 3D codes could be integrated into the cover glass or on the home button of the device, and could either be overt or covert, for example hidden in a design element or made too small to be visible to the naked eye.
Unlike 1D and 2D codes which are flat, the patent envisages creating a pattern within the substrate of a device that is in three dimensions. For example, one could imagine a datamatrix code which, when looked at in cross section, reveals that some of the coding areas are perforations (or protrusions) of varying depth/height, adding another dimension to the encoded data.
The patent application envisages that 3D scanners and decoding software would be used to read the codes, determining the depth or height of each element.
"For example, the reading devices may … find an edge of the device or a button and utilise the code's relative position to the found edge or button to find the code," says the application.
The technology described in the patent would be suitable for any material that can be marked by laser ablation, mechanical milling or pin stamping techniques, including glass, plastic, metallic, and/or carbon fibre materials.
Apple products are a perennial target of counterfeiters, and the company recently introduced a trade-in scheme for potentially unsafe fake and third-party chargers in the wake of serious incidents, including deaths, linked to the use of knock-offs.
For obvious reasons the company remains tight-lipped about any anti-counterfeit technologies currently employed on its products beyond the use of serial numbers, although it does provide guidance to consumers on how to spot counterfeits such as Lightning connectors.
In 2008 Apple hired a number of brand security specialists from Pfizer - led by Dan Shruhan - to spearhead its anti-counterfeiting drive. At the time it was suggested that almost 100 per cent of Apple's iPod and iPhone's circulating in China were fake.