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Weyerhaeuser Acquires Tag Innovator Organic ID

The paper company says it acquired the Colorado startup to bring its printable RFID tag research and development in-house.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Tags: Packaging
Aug 31, 2006Paper and packaging giant Weyerhaeuser announced on Wednesday that it had purchased Organic ID. For the past few years, this Colorado Springs startup has been developing printable RFID tags. Printed tags contain circuits and transistors that are deposited, or printed, with a special mix of conductive organic polymers instead of using silicon-based chips (see Developing Tomorrow's Tags).

Thus far, only very simple, low-frequency RFID tags have been successfully printed. The technology will need considerable improvements to support printing tags in large volumes, or printing tags that could support high-frequency transmissions and longer read ranges. But many in the RFID industry are hoping the technology will advance to the point where tags could be mass-produced and printed directly into packaging at a fraction of the cost of silicon-based RFID tags.

"We've been looking at RFID technology and the various companies developing the technology for many years. We've also been working with Organic ID," says Weyerhaeuser spokesman Frank Mendizabal. "Since Organic ID is working toward item-level RFID tags, we decided to buy it and its patents, and to help it develop those tags. We think Organic ID brings some good people, ideas and technology to the table."

Mendizabal says the company does not yet have any prototypical item-level tags at a production level. In 2004, Organic ID said it was aiming to release its first tag product in 2007. However, Klaus Dimmler, Organic ID's president and CEO (now a general manager within the Weyerhaeuser organization) said today that he could not comment on how close the company is to releasing a product.

The last significant milestone Organic ID reached toward that goal was in April of last year, when it announced it had printed rectifier circuits able to process radio waves at frequencies of 13.56 MHz (see RFID News Roundup). Rectifiers convert alternating current to direct current, which is used to power a tag.

In February, Philips Research, the research arm of Philips Electronics, created a high-frequency (13.56 MHz) RFID tag using polymer-based chips, but the tag was not yet printable. German company Poly IC is also developing printed tags. Most technologists agree, however, that printed tags will never be able to transmit at frequencies much higher than 13.56 MHz due to the characteristics of organic polymers.

Mendizabal says Organic ID's 10-person staff will continue to work at its Colorado Springs location, though the company has not yet released terms of the acquisition. In 2005, Weyerhaeuser recorded sales of $22.6 billion. It has offices or operations in 18 countries, with customers worldwide.

"We weren't specifically seeking an acquisition," Dimmler says of the sale, "but it seemed like the right thing for us to do." Organic ID and Weyerhaeuser, he adds, shared a common vision for integrating printable tags directly into packaging materials.

Weyerhaeuser is not the first paper and packaging company to show an interest in Organic ID. In late 2004, Organic ID announced a partnership with International Paper, through which the paper company was to provide its printing expertise and resources (see IP Enters Polymer-Chip Partnership).

In March, packaging company Smurfit-Stone demonstrated a prototypical cardboard package with an integrated RFID tag, though it used a printed antenna and a silicon-based chip from Texas Instruments (see TI, Smurfit-Stone Demo RFID-Enabled Cases)

Attaching a silicon chip to an antenna (whether that antenna is printed with conductive ink or etched from metal) to form a passive RFID tag is a slow and expensive process. This is one of the main reasons users of the technology are seeking printable tags, in which the antenna and chip would both be printed in one process.
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