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RFID, AIDC, and IoT NEWS: Digimarc Scores Deal with GS1 to Distribute Its Unique Invisible Bar Code, While GS1 Aims to Build Consumer Information Repository


Will Operate as If UPC and QR Code were in One Invisible Symbol

Feb. 3, 2016
SCDigest Editorial Staff

In something of a coup, Digimarc, developer of a unique technology that allows bar codes to be invisibly embedded into images, has formed a partnership with standards organization GS1 US, which will in effect distribute the technology, with plans to create a central repository of product information for consumers.

What is a Digimarc? It is a technology first developed for totally, different purposes, but which can now be used to embed a bar code into any image or graphic, from a web URL (similar to the increasingly ubiquitous QR codes) to a more traditional GTIN/UPC code character string.

Supply Chain Digest Says...

Under this new GS1 scenario, after they scan a Digimarc code on a product consumers will be sent to a new "SmartLabel" web site that will contain product information from participating brands.

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It does this by somehow manipulating the color pattern of almost any printed image or graphic in a way that can be read as data by a smart phone camera or a traditional imaging scanner (with the Digimarc app), even though it is unobservable by the human eye.

So what is the point? From the "QR code replacement" perspective, some marketers find QR codes, which consumers can scan to launch a URL that takes them to additional product information, sort of ugly, degrading a magazine ad or brochure's look.

A Digimarc (or more properly a Diimarc bar code) can eliminate the QR code in favor of a smaller graphic that notes the Digimarc is in an image. For example, a Digimarc can be embedded in a magazine photo, such that for example in a food magazine a picture of a loaf of bread could contain a Digimarc that if read with a smart phone would take readers to the recipe.

More relevant to the GS1 announcement, virtually the entire outside packaging of a consumer products item could contain a Digimarc, which would in part encode a field that in effect matches the product’s UPC number. That would mean the code could be read at retail point-of-sale without the cashier needing to find where the UPC code is, as is generally the case today, since Digimarcs would be throughout say the label around a can of soup..

Digimarc says this approach enables much faster scanning at check out. In fact, Digimarc set some sort of record at National Retail Federation annual show in 2014 for fastest UPC scans, with a Guinness Book of World Records auditor there to authenticate the accomplishment.

Now, Digimarc and GS1 have announced a new partnership.

Under the arrangement, GS1 has created what it calls a "digital watermark," under the banner of a new "DWCode."

GS1 says that "this DWCode will be a peer format to UPC, GS1-QR, RFID w/EPC for product identification using GS1 Standards." It also says it will operate a portal, educate and support its membership in their adoption and use of the DW Code.

The DW code is in fact a Digimarc that will encode a given product’s GTIN number and consumer product information. Under the arrangement, a GS1 member company applies for a Barcode unique identity, and then that code number is shared with a one of several potential "pre-media vendors." Those vendors, certifiend by Digimarc, have the specific software that embeds the code into the package design and ultinately print files. For this service, GS1 will levy an annual charge, similar to the fees it has historically levied to obtain a UPC number and individual GTINs for each SKU.

Ultimately, those Digimarcs could be used to speed processing through point of sale at grocers and mass merchants. However, there is a bit of "chicken an egg" scenario here, in that unless nearly all products contain Digimarcs in their packaging, a store associate would never know which items had Digimarcs and which did not, perhaps actually slowing the scanning process down compared with traditional UPC codes, or at minimum reducing the speed advantage.


Digimarc itself says there will be no slow down in the scanning process even in this hybrid scenario, telling SCDiges that "Cashiers listen for the beep of the scanner to confirm a reading. As the bar code is replicated throughout a package, hundreds of times, then the bar code will trigger a beep sooner than the time required to rotate a package to discover the location of the barcode and presenting it to the scanner," adding that "There is no slowing whatsoever or reduction in the speed advantage.

(See More Below)



The more immediate opportunity would seem to be using the Digimarc to allow consumers to find more information about the products themselves, as described earlier relative to using Digimarcs to embed web URLs and replicate QR codes.

Here, GS1 wants to play the role of central data repository, standardizing what information a consumer can find for a product (e.g., country of origin, nutritional information, perhaps even chain of custody, etc.) and being the source consumer products companies would use to make this data available. Currently, companies either manage this on their own, or use one of several third party services to coordinate these links and databases.

"Current methods of electronic identification work well for point-of-sale systems but often have high product data error rates when used for product information lookup, leading to misinformation and missed opportunities," GSI says. "Consequently, consumers are often not able to access the level and quality of product information they require. As smartphone and tablet shopping increasingly becomes the new normal for commerce, GS1 US sees leveraging Digimarc’s technology as a way to create the next step in product identification and information transparency that enables our members to meet the needs of today’s mobile-centric consumer."

Under this new GS1 scenario, after they scan a Digimarc code on a product consumers will be sent to a new "SmartLabel" web site that will contain product information from participating brands with a consistent user experience.

"The DW Code requires a number of product data fields that are provided by the
brand owner, and will be made available to the consumer when they scan the code.
QR codes do not require this brand accurate data to be captured at the time of code
Creation," GS1 notes.


Digmarc notes that consumer brands could use other Digimarcs to lauch other web pages, such as a consumer video, beyond the types of informaiton that will be available on the SmartLabel site.

This of course would represent a major change in the way consumer products deal with such information today.

GS1 says that this new service should be available sometime later in 2016..

What do you think of GS1's new strategy for consumer product information? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.


Your Comments/Feedback

Jerry Edwards

Design coordinator, National branding
Posted on: Feb, 02 2016
To your point about chicken and egg, Datalogic has an interesting video where they show the throughput speed when 1/2 the packages in a 40 item basket are watermarked, but the clerk doesn't know which ones. The increase in scanning speed is around 25%, simply because the scanner reads the DW code sooner than it picks up the visible barcode. While in reality a clerk will probably learn pretty quickly which items have a DW code and which don't, which should increase this throughout advantage even more. The video shows even a rookie scanner in his or her first day will see a real increase in scanning speed, even if they don't know that ANY items are marked with a DW code.



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