Distributed Feedback Membrane Lasers for Counterfeit Protection and Authentication

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Counterfeit protection and authentication
Counterfeit protection and authentication

University: University of St Andrews

Sector(s): Engineering & Manufacturing, Chemical, Electronics, Sensors & Photonics, Food & Drink, Healthcare & Pharmaceuticals, Life Sciences

About Opportunity:

It is estimated that companies around the world lose a total of $1.8 trillion annually (UK economy, £30 billion) due to counterfeited products. While counterfeiting imposes a challenge on every industry, the pharmaceutical and alcoholic beverage industry (e.g. Whisky producers) are affected most, since forged products can have life threatening implications. In fact, it is estimated that the deaths of up to one million people each year can be related to toxic or ineffective counterfeited drugs. Current product security features include raised printing, watermarks, micro-lettering, holograms and security inks. While these technologies contribute to the overall counterfeit resilience, the current security features are still often forged. Similarly, official documents such as passports or banknotes are prime candidates for counterfeiting. For example, in 2016, counterfeit Sterling bank notes with a face value £7.5 million were removed from circulation by the Bank of England, highlighting an ever-increasing need for sophisticated and counterfeit resilient security features.

Our distributed feedback membrane laser technology addresses this need and could become a widely applied and versatile security feature on valued documents or similar products. Due to their extreme mechanical flexibility, ultra-low weight and ultra-thin design, these membrane lasers can be applied to banknotes or other documents requiring authentication control to serve as unique security labels. Up to (10e15)n unique labels for (n different gain materials) can be created and read out using a simple contactless optical system. The specialist expertise and technology facilities needed to produce the lasers will make them almost impossible to counterfeit, rendering it a strong and reliable security feature. Furthermore, the high optical transparency of the membrane lasers, combined with their low thresholds and ultrathin design also allows their use as wearable security tags, even on contact lenses where they can complement biometric authentication with iris scans.

Key Benefits:

  • Extremely flexible, ultrathin (< 500 nm) and ultralow weight (0.5 g/m2) membrane lasers
  • Transferable to any object requiring authentication control (e.g. banknotes, passports, branded goods, pharmaceuticals, etc.)
  • 10e15 unique barcode-like labels can be created
  • High read-out stability under ambient conditions
  • Straightforward contactless read out using a simple optical system
  • High counterfeit resilience due to a sophisticated production procedure
  • Uses low-cost mass-scale production via inkjet printing techniques and roll-to-roll processes


  • Banknotes
  • Passports
  • Branded goods
  • Pharmeceuticals

IP Status:

The University filed UK Patent Application No. 1711097.4 on 10th July 2017 covering the technology, and is pursuing a PCT application.


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