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Smartphones help world’s winemakers foil fraudsters

BORDEAUX, France (AFP) ― For Charles Pillitteri, the fight against fraudsters began when he discovered fake bottles of his Canadian ice wine in Taiwan in 1998.

He tried everything to safeguard his product from counterfeiting, from 22-carat gold to invisible ink, only to realize that none would protect the consumer at point of purchase.

The proprietor of Pillitteri Estates Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, in the Canadian province of Ontario, found his solution in a bottle-top silver bubble seal that is impossible to copy.

“It gives us authenticity, traceability, integrity and customer satisfaction,” said Pillitteri as the recent Vinexpo wine industry fair in Bordeaux.

The seals ― developed by Prooftag, a French firm that specializes in brand security ― is among several technologies that vintners are embracing to foil fraudsters and reassure consumers that they are buying the real thing.

With Prooftag, a consumer armed with an iPhone, a downloaded software application and Internet access can authenticate a wine in seconds, even while standing at the wine-store shelves.

“It’s easy. You take your iPhone, take a shot of the datamatrix code and it takes you to the website and it shows you a picture of the bubble pattern for the bottle you are looking at,” Pillitteri said.

“If you break the seal, all the bubbles are broken, the seal is gone and you can’t copy it.”

Android and BlackBerry versions of the app are due out by year’s end.

Ice wine, a sweet dessert wine made from grapes frozen on the vine, is one of the most counterfeited wines in the world, particularly in Asia where it is a prestigious gift item.

“The bubble code creates a direct link between the final consumer and the brand holder and restores confidence,” Clement Kaiser, chief executive of Prooftag, told AFP.

‘SpySeal is visible and invisible’ Curiously, the bubble seal began as a failed product intended for the semi-conductor industry.

“We applied an adhesive, a polymer, and the fault appeared ― the bubbles,” Kaiser told AFP. “The electrical properties were not consistent. We were not able to overcome the problem, so we stopped research for semi-conductors.”

Exploiting the flaw, Prooftag sought ways in which its patented technology might prove useful ― and the wine industry, struggling with counterfeiting, was the answer.

Prooftag now sells bubble seals to winemakers in Canada, France, South America and the U.S. state of California.
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