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Authentication Solution Embeds Invisible EPC Gen 2 Tags Into Watch Crystals

The Winwatch system offers retailers a way to validate watches at the point of sale, and can also be used for supply chain management, after-sales services and repair, and other applications.
By Beth Bacheldor
Sep 23, 2008Winwatch, a Swiss company that has been developing technology utilizing radio frequency identification to prevent the counterfeiting of wristwatches, as well as to provide watch warranty management and other consumer services, has announced a new EPC Gen 2 version of its system.

In 2004, Winwatch revealed an earlier version of its solution, which involved embedding an invisible RFID transponder in the glass crystals of watches, (see Startup Says It's Time for RFID). The original system employed Hitachi's tiny 2.45 GHz passive RFID tag, known as the µ-chip (pronounced mu-chip), a technology with a proprietary air-interface protocol. But Alex Kalbermatten, Winwatch's CEO and cofounder, says the company has scrapped its use of that technology in favor of EPC Gen 2 passive transponders. "The development of our original 2.45 GHz version was abandoned by early 2006, before any commercialization effort was undertaken. It was not time for RFID," he says.

"One of the principal motivations for our development of the UHF system," Kalbermatten says, "was to create RFID technology that is compliant to the EPC Gen 2 standard, which seems to be the most cost-effective and also best suited for use in product authentication at the item level, by integrating the RFID tag on the product itself—a must for the successful fight against illicit trade. It is all about standards, customer needs and costs."

A system based on EPC Gen 2, Kalbermatten adds, will resonate better with customs authorities, which he says are critical players in stopping the counterfeiting of luxury goods. "Most interceptions of counterfeit goods take place mainly at national borders, airports and ports of entry," he states. "While RFID deployment is still in its early stage, there is no doubt that customs authorities and border controls will sooner or later enter the RFID game. We believe that national governments and customs will move forward in actively supporting the worldwide established EPC Gen 2 standard based on UHF, and therefore have no interest to operate investments in a proprietary system—as, for example, a 2.45 GHz version."

Winwatch began working on a UHF version of the system in 2006. The company had to create a solution allowing for very close reads of about a quarter inch so retailers could authenticate the watches at the point of sale, as well as more distant reads of a few inches so the system could also be employed for other applications, such as supply chain management and helping customs authorities deter illicit trade. To obtain the greater read range, Winwatch created a booster antenna that is attached to the package containing the wristwatch.

"The booster antenna has no integrated circuit and cannot be read without being magnetically and/or electromagnetically coupled to the RFID tag embedded in the watch glass—only one tag, but two different reading distances," Kalbermatten explains. "The hard part in our research-and-development activity was to make the RFID tag antenna optically transparent, to be able to be integrated on the sapphire or mineral glass of a premium wristwatch. The sealing and placing of the integrated circuit chip was the easier part. There were multiple problems and hurdles to overcome, but finally we succeeded."

According to Kalbermatten, the UHF version of the system works with any compatible EPC Gen 2 reader. Not only is the system designed to fight counterfeiting and authenticate the watches, Winwatch also expects it to be useful for supply chain management, track and trace, product life-cycle management, after-sales services and repair, and warranty services.

Kalbermatten declines to divulge information regarding pilots or customer trials employing the new EPC Gen 2 system, citing non-disclosure agreements.
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