Spectral Engines’ NIRONE Scanner: A tool for anti-counterfeiting - a view from an expert

One of the most interesting use cases for Spectral Engines’ NIR spectrometry is in global anti-counterfeiting. However, lets first turn an eye on two issues: What we know about the problem in some key sectors, and what approaches many in-house anti-counterfeiting experts are adapting when trying to tackle the problem on a global scale.  At the end of this blog, I am then revealing what value-add the Spectral Engines’ NIRONE solution could bring to the life of these in-house professionals.


What EUROPOL says about the problem in its IP crime threat assessment 2019 -report? According to the report: ”EUR 121 billion (6,8%) of EU imports are counterfeit and/or pirated goods” which is a nice-to-know and widely referred average figure. However, some sector-specific statements in this report are more revealing:


Food & drinks

“Food and drinks remain highly popular items for counterfeiters, with the EU consistently emerging as a major destination market. Detected counterfeit food products include baby milk powder, stock cubes, cheese, coffee, olive oil and pasta.”



The European Crop Protection Agency estimates that “Nearly 14 % of pesticides on the EU market are counterfeit or otherwise illegal, and up to 25 % in some individual countries. The EU pesticide sector loses annually an estimated EUR 1.3 billion. In an increasing number of cases, criminals import only the component ingredients and subsequently produce the counterfeit pesticides in the EU.”



”Erectile dysfunction medicines are traditionally among the most common type of counterfeited medicines, but increasingly counterfeited performance-enhancing drugs are also detected. Some of the crime groups involved are also producing different types of synthetic drugs. Each year, the EU pharmaceutical sector loses an estimated EUR 10.2 billion.”


The Falsified Medicines Directive dictates that after February 2019 all prescription pharmaceuticals do have to carry two safety features, namely unique 2D Datamatrix code and a tamper-evident seal. Right. What does this report say about the FMD? ”While this is expected to prevent the sales of illegal medicines through the legal supply chain, the system will not be able to counter the illicit trade taking place outside the legal supply chain.”


Fighting fakes - a view from an expert


The above statements by EUROPOL underline the fact that counterfeiting is a complex risk to be mitigated. There are no perfect solutions, although a holistic approach is widely recommended. Here I am highlighting few more snapshots over the challenges faced by in-house anti-counterfeiting experts - with some notions:


Many/most brand-owners rely heavily on Customs seizures. Few shortcomings affecting the effectiveness: big package volumes versus limited resources; focus excluding intra-community trade, only a few % of deliveries are sample-inspected.


Numerous service providers are offering online market monitoring (web stores, social media) or consumer brand protection solutions. A usual shortcoming: If a service provider finds a suspect digital identity of a product in a web store or social media account or has been online-recorded by a consumer, in most cases that evidence is NOT directly enforceable. From an IPR enforcement perspective, it is just good business intelligence that still requires some offline activities - before the evidence trail is ready.


The common buzzword, among product authentication technology service providers, is currently SaaS-based active and intelligent packaging. It is a valuable tool but with a shortcoming: one might be able to on-spot authenticate counterfeit retail packages, but can the content inside packaging be verified (e.g. pharma pills, pesticides sacks)?


Take-away to the last section


Various customs and market monitoring programs provide a lot of potential leads to be verified by in-house experts. They are usually very busy with the related case management - from suspect authentication to evidence trail documentation. The big question is, how could we help them to do their work better - and more cost-effectively?


Law enforcement authorities like EUROPOL are regularly conducting simultaneous market sweep actions in multiple jurisdictions (e.g. operations such as OPSON, SILVER AXE and PANGEA). How we can empower these authorities to spot illicit branded food/pharmaceuticals/ pesticides - in co-operation with brand-owners?


The value-add available


My view is that Spectral Engines’s NIRONE technology could help in-house IPR brand protection professionals (e.g. in pharmaceuticals, pesticides and cosmetics) to:

  1. Empower their global brand protection teams with a laboratory in their pocket capabilities. The in-house experts would still be in full control over what data would be pushed from the cloud to the smartphone’s screen. Think about what a difference it could make e.g. in pharma anti-counterfeiting in Africa!
  2. Enable more market monitoring operations (e.g. inside EU borders) as the in-house product experts do not need to be physically present in all raid actions by law enforcement authorities (as they could trust more on their local team’s capabilities).
  3. Enable to on-spot authenticate not only counterfeit but also sub-standard products with a chemical profile (aka e.g. pharmaceuticals, pesticides and cosmetics).
  4. Enable to verify the chemical fingerprint of the content inside a blister package - without touching the content or opening the retail package (even when inside a store).
  5. Save time and money spent on administrative sample handling and laboratory analysis.

The Spectral Engines’ NIRONE material sensing technology is a technology worth to be checked by all brands serious to tackle counterfeits!


Near Infrared (NIR) spectrometers are widely used in many fields to measure material content such as moisture, fat, protein, hydrocarbons, textile fibers, polymers and pharmaceutical ingredients. Amongst very promising new technology include NIR technology which can be utilized to identify if the chemical fingerprint of the original material, for example, pharmaceuticals to identify the original product(s) even through blister packs.


NIR spectroscopy is proven technology for the identification of materials. As I have observed, many laboratory techniques are slow and they require expensive instruments and also highly educated laboratory personnel and not applicable to field use. NIR spectroscopy is a practical option when a similar analysis needs to be carried out in the field. Portable material scanners such as Spectral Engines’ NIRONE Scanner can be connected to the cloud and advanced algorithms for identifications can be run from the cloud. This makes it easy to update the spectral signature libraries with new materials and cost-efficiently test new algorithms based on the data of hundreds or even thousands of sensors.



The key benefits of Spectral Engines’ material sensing solutions are:
  • Fast and reliable detection of materials based on the built libraries
  • Rapid, non-destructive measurement, without a need for sample preparation
  • Affordability
  • Connectivity and portability
  • Easy-to-upgrade libraries via cloud-based tools


By Kari Rönkkö, Security Specialist, Co-founder CTurva


Kari Rönkkö worked nearly 14 years as an in-house IPR protection professional at Nokia Corporation. Don’t hesitate to ask for more insights: