Combatting counterfeits with light: focus on Visualant

Ron EricksonA light-based authentication technology developed by US company Visualant is on the brink of becoming a commercial platform, according to the firm's founder and chief executive Ron Erickson.

The system - known as ChromaID - consists of software and a scanner that employs a technology called spectral pattern matching (SPM). Using this approach, structured light is directed onto a surface material - or through a liquid or gas - creating and capturing a unique marker that is invisible to the human eye, according to Erickson (pictured).

Using ChromaID it is possible to effectively conduct identification authentication and diagnostics in the field that could previously only be performed by large and expensive lab-based equipment like spectrometers.

Seattle-based Visualant has started shipping ChromaID scanners and software development kits to "some of the brightest inventors and engineers around the world" - via a collaboration with Intellectual Ventures (IV) - who will look at potential applications of the technology, said Erickson.

The IV partnership is helping to explore the role of SPM in a number of applications both within brand protection and beyond.

For example, an unnamed authentication specialist is evaluating the possibility of using ChromaID in combination with chemical coding for a two-step authentication application that would be faster and more cost effective than using traditional verification methods, according to the company.

A pharmaceutical supply chain company is looking at using ChromaID in its high-speed pill sorting process in order to detect pills that should not be in the batch being processed and ensure a high level of quality control through the sorting and counting process, while a medical waste company is testing the use of the technology to confirm the authenticity of unused controlled substances that are required, by law, to be disposed of with verification.

"We are receiving amazing reports about the many new ChromaID applications being developed, and we anticipate our first commercial application to materialise in the coming months," said Erickson.

Visualant may be in the process of evolving from a development- to commercial-stage company, but partnerships with other companies and direct sales are already providing useful revenues to the tune of around $2m in the first quarter of fiscal 2014 ended December 31, 2013.

ChromaID scannerThe company is still running in the red however, with a net loss of $864,000 in the period. It was sitting on reserves of $3.5m as of September 30, 2013.

A commercialisation agreement with Sumitomo Precision Products expired at the end of 2013, and is in the process of being re-defined, according to Visualant's latest SEC filing.

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