NFC RFID Technology Puts the Squeeze on Accordion Thieves, Counterfeiters

By Claire Swedberg

A Finnish accordion merchant is using a solution from FinnCode to track the sale and servicing of the instruments his store sells.

When a musical instrument is sold, both the buyer and the seller face unknowns. The buyer must trust that the instrument is authentic, but the seller may also have to rely on faith that when a malfunctioning instrument is returned to the store, it has been properly serviced up to that point, and thus meets the requirements of any warranty. Kristian Hyyppä, an accordion performer and the owner of Giulietti—a Finnish company that imports and resells Giulietti accordions in Europe—plans to add some authentication to the process, thanks to an RFID-based solution that will help authorized parties guarantee the history of his firm's accordions via a Near Field Communication (NFC)-enabled mobile phone. The solution, known as RE-AD INFO, was developed by Finnish company FinnCode Ltd.

Hyyppä's store, located in Seinäjoki, Finland, sells accordions at prices between €2,000 and €20,000 ($2,700 and $27,000). Each instrument comes with a three-year warranty; however, that warranty becomes nullified if the owner fails to have the instrument serviced after the first year of use. Of course, proof that such service did or did not occur can often be difficult for a customer to provide, or for Hyyppä to confirm. Because the instruments are of such high value, there are concerns for customers as well. For one thing, if an instrument is lost or stolen and is later retrieved by police or another party, it can be nearly impossible to identify the instrument and its rightful owner if its serial number has been destroyed or removed. What's more, proving the instrument's value to insurance companies can also prove challenging.

An owner of FinnCode's NFC-enabled teddy bear can access personalized messages by tapping her NFC-enabled phone against the RFID-tagged heart that the stuffed animal is holding.

The solution from FinnCode consists of NFC tags applied inside the instrument, as well as access to FinnCode's RE-AD INFO service, hosted on the company's own server. A store or manufacturer pays a one-time fee to enter an instrument into the service, and can then pass that cost on to customers if it so chooses. Once that is done, anyone equipped with an NFC phone or reader and an authorized password can then view or update information regarding a particular instrument.

FinnCode Ltd. was launched in May 2012 to provide advertising services enabled by NFC RFID or QR-code technology, according to Jari Salmela, the company's cofounder. Advertisers can use the service to enable potential customers to read a QR code or an NFC RFID tag, and to then be provided with promotional data that could be updated as necessary. For example, a Finnish dairy company is utilizing the service with QR codes on milk cartons, in order to enable users to access advertisements that might change based on the time of day deemed the most appropriate to customers.

In May of this year, the company also released an NFC-enabled teddy bear that links the toy animal's owner with personal data from a friend or loved one. For example, a woman who receives a bear can tap her NFC-enabled phone against the stuffed heart that the animal is holding. The phone captures the unique ID number of an NFC RFID tag built into the heart, and is directed to the RE-AD server, causing the phone to display personal messages from the sender. She also receives alerts on her phone when her bear has new messages for her. The teddy bear is currently being sold at some stores in Finland, as well as on FinnCode's Web site.

The company's five cofounders, who all have a background in RFID technology, were inspired by interest in the NFC-based teddy-bear solution to begin thinking about other items that could be tagged (for scenarios in which QR codes would not be useful), potentially for authentication purposes. The group met with Hyyppä to discuss options related to applying tags in his accordions, and he liked the idea of tagging the instruments sold at his store.

Beginning this month, when the store receives an accordion from a manufacturer, Hyyppä or another staff member opens the instrument with tools designed for that task, and inserts a Rapid NFC label with the RE-AD logo and an NXP Semiconductors chip built into it. The worker can then use his NFC-enabled phone to read the unique ID number encoded on the tag, after which the phone displays the RE-AD Web site, where he enters data regarding the instrument, such as its serial number, make and model. The accordion is then closed back up.

FinnCode's Jari Salmela

When an accordion is sold, the employee simply places a phone near the instrument's tag in order to capture the ID number. The phone display's the RE-AD Web site, where he can then update information in the system to indicate that the instrument was sold, and to whom. The store associate can also provide a password to the customer, enabling the customer to access data about the instrument at any time, or to update that information when, for example, taking it to an authorized service provider for maintenance. The customer can also input information about how the instrument was used—and, if desired, where and with whom it was played. The latter piece of information could be of interest if the owner is a musician celebrity, as it would increase the instrument's value if it were later re-sold.

If an individual were to steal or find an instrument and attempt to sell it to another dealer, that dealer could employ an NFC-enabled phone to read the tag prior to purchasing the instrument, thereby identifying its true owner. If no tag read occurred, the dealer would know the instrument was a counterfeit, since he or she would be aware of which instrument makes and models should be tagged. This solution, Salmela says, "is going to make life much harder for counterfeiters or thieves."

FinnCode is currently in discussions with two large guitar manufacturers—one elsewhere in Europe and another in the United States—that are interested in the technology, Salmela reports. Hyyppä will be a distributor for the solution in Finland, as well as for accordion applications worldwide. Salmela says the technology could be used to authenticate and track not only instruments, but also other high-value items, such as guns or electronics. The company, he notes, is interested in partnering with a U.S.-based reseller, though it has not yet identified such a firm.