For the half-year to 31 December 2014, the IPKat's regular team is supplemented by contributions from guest bloggers Rebecca Gulbul, Lucas Michels and Marie-Andrée Weiss.

Regular round-ups of the previous week's blogposts are kindly compiled by Alberto Bellan.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Strictly for the birds?

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology doesn't often get a mention on this weblog, despite its usefulness in the fight against fakes. However, the IPKat thought it would be worth drawing it to his readers' attention, having just been captivated by a recent BBC news item from Malaysia, "RFID technology thwarts bird's nest counterfeiters", by Jennifer Pak, here. The article reads, in relevant part:
"One of the most coveted beauty products in Asia is found inside a damp and dark three storey house in southern Malaysia's Johor state. The delicacy is spun from saliva [the Kat is not making this bit up ...] and it will soon land in someone's soup, as people in China believe that eating bird's nest is good for their skin and they're willing to pay up to US$100 just for a handful. It's a lucrative industry and counterfeits have flooded the market.

Safety concerns last July effectively halted all exports of bird's nests to China from Malaysia, the world's second biggest supplier of the delicacy.

The Malaysian agricultural ministry says its edible bird's nest industry is worth RM5b ($1.59bn; £1.01bn) [... or this bit]. That is why the government is now investing in Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) to boost consumer confidence. It's one of the most common reasons why Asian governments use the technology.

RFID allows a product to be easily tracked from the source to the consumer. The bird's nests can be sealed in a box with an RFID tag that contains a microchip [shouldn't that be micro-"cheep", wonders Merpel] embedded with details about the harvest. A handheld scanner emits a radio frequency to unlock that information. It may sound similar to barcodes, but RFID tags are said to be harder to duplicate.

... The final product can only contain saliva. Still, it is hard for consumers to tell if a bird's nest is real or not so [Yanming Resources] has been forced to lower prices in order to compete with counterfeits. But with RFID, every step of this laborious process, from harvesting to packaging, is tagged. The data is stored centrally with the government. This official support will be key for consumers.

In essence the RFID becomes a certificate of authenticity, says Yow Lock Sen, who is in charge of overseeing the government project. The system is still being perfected, but eventually customers who have safety concerns will be able to trace the origins of the product by simply downloading a free app onto a smartphone, and scanning the RFID tag on the product.

Although it is a government research project, participation from the industry is voluntary since it requires companies to buy the RFID tags and reading equipment.  ..."
The IPKat, who is fascinated by this, wonders whether the sale of fake bird's nest is the sort of thing that would be protected by an "extended passing off" action in the United Kingdom and whether the bird's nest concept might be protectable as a Traditional Speciality Guaranteed in the European Union. Merpel still feels uncomfortable about eating anything that is essentially saliva and wonders what other strange and squirm-making bits of the body and its excrescences might also be regarded as delicacies at dining tables braver than hers.

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