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SAMSys Awarded RFID Patent

The RFID reader maker has developed an approach to identifying items, even when every tag can't be read.
Jan 07, 2003Jan. 8, 2003 - Radio frequency identification is often used to track large numbers of items, but making sure every item is identified every time is very expensive. SAMSys Technologies, a Toronto company that makes RFID readers, has been given a US patent for its solution to the problem.
SAMSys's Horwitz

In a nutshell, the process SAMSys has patented involves creating identifiable population groups, reading a sample of tags from the group and then extrapolating that the other items in the group are also present.

For instance, if you were trying to read tags on 100 manila envelops being shipped, you could read each tag individually and place each envelop in a mail bag and then seal the bag. You now have an identifiable population group. If 60 percent of the tags are read at the next transshipment point, as long as the seal on the bag is intact, you can reliably assume that all of the original items are present.

The patent details data structures and procedures for ensuring the accuracy of information from RFID readers. "These are the kinds of issues that have to be dealt with in many applications, such as airline baggage tagging and parcel tracking, where the number of items is large and the requirement is for a high level of accuracy," says SAMSys Chairman and CEO Cliff Horwitz. "Yet, if you rely on the reader interrogating every tag in the field, you will fail."

In a report on the first phase of its field test, the Auto-ID Center indicated that only 97 percent of the pallets being tracked were correctly identified (see Auto-ID Center Field Test Report). As tag prices get cheaper, it is likely that the failure rate will increase and that some tags will be damaged. So companies will need to find ways of identifying items when all the tags aren't read.

In the three years since SAMSys originally filed the patent, the company has added specific details for tracking goods in warehouses and distribution centers and linking items to a specific location. The patent is for a process and not for new technology, so it is unlikely to have much effect on the company's revenue.

"Is this something that I would see as being a windfall of direct financial benefit? Probably not," says Horwitz. "But it reinforces the fact that we have thought through many of these issues, in terms of how to address problems cost-effectively. And it gives us a competitive bargaining chip, in that patents are a currency to deal with other companies that have novel ideas."

This is the second patent SAMSys has received. The first was for a device that the company developed for surveying an area to understand how different tags perform in the same environment.

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