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‘Fingerprinting’ documents and packaging

Unique surface imperfections serve as an easily identifiable feature in the fight against fraud.


We have found that almost all paper documents, plastic cards and product packaging contain a unique physical identity code formed from microscopic imperfections in the surface. This covert ‘fingerprint’ is intrinsic and virtually impossible to modify controllably. It can be rapidly read using a low-cost portable laser scanner. Most forms of document and branded-product fraud could be rendered obsolete by use of this code.

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Figure 1: Comparing document fingerprints.


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Correspondence to Russell P. Cowburn.

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Competing interests

This work was funded by an external company, Ingenia Holdings. One or more of the authors have consultancy agreements with that company. Patents have been filed on the work described in the paper and an exploitation company registered. Some of the authors own small shareholdings in that company. The total share ownership of all the authors combined does not exceed 10%.

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Buchanan, J., Cowburn, R., Jausovec, AV. et al. ‘Fingerprinting’ documents and packaging. Nature 436, 475 (2005).

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