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Pro-Privacy Tearable RFID Tag Becomes a Reality

IBM has licensed its innovative Clipped Tag technology to label converter Marnlen RFiD, who has already started shipping samples to select end users. According to what Marnlen's vice president of business development Andris Lauris told RFID Update, the tags are ready for immediate production, and the company is taking orders.
Nov 08, 2006This article was originally published by RFID Update.

November 8, 2006—IBM has licensed its innovative Clipped Tag technology to Ontario-based label converter Marnlen RFiD, who has already started shipping samples to select end users. According to what Marnlen's vice president of business development Andris Lauris told RFID Update, the tags are ready for immediate production, and the company is taking orders.

The Clipped Tag was designed at IBM's Watson Research Center to be a privacy-friendly solution for tagging consumer items. It allows a consumer that has purchased a tagged item to tear off a piece of the tag along a perforated edge, which significantly limits the read range. Notably, the tag is not totally destroyed or "killed"; it can still be read at very close range, thereby preserving the post-purchase benefits of RFID like product authentication and return, recall, and exchange processing. IBM has uploaded a worthwhile video demonstration of the Clipped Tag, as well as a white paper with more details and photos.

The concept is simple and elegant: tearing the tag essentially shortens the antenna. There is no damage to the tag's silicon chip, which holds the data and functionality, so the tag can still function exactly as it had before. The only result of the shortened antenna is a weaker radio signal that does not travel as far.

There is also a psychological benefit to consumers of having modified the tag through the physical action of tearing. Consumers may be gratified by modifying the tags themselves, as well as seeing that modification manifested by the tag's smaller size. Contrast this to the "kill" feature in Gen2, which offers no physical or visual confirmation that the consumer's privacy has been protected by the tag modification.

From the consumer's perspective, "clipping" the tag feels akin to tearing a postage stamp off a sheet of stamps, according to Dr. Paul Moskowitz, IBM research scientist and one of the tag's inventors (seen in the video).

The Clipped Tags currently available use the popular Gen2 squiggle inlay from Alien, but Marnlen's Lauris said that using other inlays is feasible, and some have been successfully tested. Moskowitz emphasized their eagerness to work with other inlay manufacturers interested in the product.

Lauris predicted that likely end users of the Clipped Tag would come from any of the consumer vertical segments that are deploying item-level RFID tagging, such as apparel, pharmaceuticals, and consumer electronics. "I expect item-level to surge next year, and continue as we go toward the end of the decade," he said.

Marnlen has just launched production, so no orders have been placed yet. But Lauris said they are actively shipping sample product to interested parties and talking to some potential clients from the retail sector that are considering pilots of the technology.

Marnlen and IBM worked together since July to make the Clipped Tag a commercial reality. The technology was originally introduced as a concept late last year, and it won recognition from the Wall Street Journal a few months ago as a runner-up in the IT security and privacy category of the annual Technology Innovation Awards.

The Clipped Tag is one example of a number of RFID-related privacy efforts that IBM has undertaken. Last year, the company announced a Privacy Consulting Practice targeted at clients deploying RFID to help them develop best-practice privacy policies and procedures (see IBM Announces 3 New RFID Offerings). The practice offers a two-day consulting workshop as well as more involved privacy services that can scale according to a client's need.

IBM's Moskowitz argues that the Clipped Tag represents a trend in the RFID industry to preempt privacy issues in advance of the widespread adoption of consumer-facing item-level tagging. "It clearly demonstrates that the industry is working on issues surrounding privacy before actually deploying item-level tagging," he said.
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