Kodak and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba are behind a new start-up that aims to fight the e-commerce fake product market using invisible, digitally traceable ink markers.
Launched this month, Miami-headquartered Eapeiron will provide technology that will enable brand owners, manufacturers and retailers to protect their products from being counterfeited or from entering the 'grey market', where products destined for certain countries are diverted to countries for which they are not licensed to be sold under a certain price.
The new 'encryption technology' for e-commerce has been developed and manufactured by Kodak at its Rochester, New York laboratories and is based on the Traceless ink technology developed by Creo, which was acquired by Kodak in 2005.
"That technology was certainly a springboard for this, which Kodak has taken and elevated probably tenfold since then," said Eapeiron chairman and chief executive Charles Fernandez.
The system will work by allowing brands to use the technology, leased through Eapeiron, to mark their products using a form of invisible yet traceable ink that can be scanned at any point in its journey.
"The technology is highly confidential but basically it will provide smart tracking for brands. It requires being seen by very specific scanners and uses specific software components. They can successfully track their products throughout the supply chain, which will help kerb counterfeit and grey market interruptions," he explained.
"It allows someone to determine where something was made, where it was supposed to go and where it is right now. It's like encrypted GPS," Fernandez added.
He said the printing or tagging devices would be embedded into manufacturers' sites so that products could be invisibly marked during production, while the scanning equipment would be used by distribution centres and eventually retailers to verify the authenticity of the products.
The technology has so far been installed at 12 "major Fortune 500 companies" including pharmaceuticals and apparel firms Fernandez said, with one spirits manufacturer and a fashion label already signed up in the UK.
"This can be used pretty much on any product and we have recently developed a technology that will allow people to put this onto fibres so it can be woven into clothes. That is in beta testing with certain brands as we speak," he said.
Fernandez said that Eapeiron "conservatively" expected to triple the number of installs of the technology globally to 36 within two years and was forecasting a fourfold increase in turnover in the same period. He wouldn't be drawn on figures.
"That doesn't include scale-up of existing clients or account for access to Alibaba vendors of which there are eight million," he added.
Along with Kodak's technology, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is providing financial backing for the venture.
"They are really trying hard to develop new and technically advanced tracking and security systems for e-commerce," Fernandez added.
"This is a marriage between Kodak, which is the premier scientific company in imaging and putting things in substrates, and Alibaba which is one of the most successful e-commerce companies in the world.
"It's intended to be the premier e-commerce technology company in the US if not ultimately globally," said Fernandez.