LAW enforcement officials have long searched for a way to solve a frequently vexing problem: determining the rightful ownership of everything from paintings to dinosaur bones to computer software. The problem has worsened in the past few years as increasingly sophisticated counterfeiters have flooded markets with illicit copies of a vast range of goods, and thefts of precious items have skyrocketed.|
A Livermore research team has come to the aid of law enforcement agencies with an ingenious solution that uses a combination of radioisotopes, gamma-ray spectroscopy, and computer-driven inkjet printers. During the past year, the team developed a novel technology that produces watermarks (unique identifiers) that establish indisputable links between owners and their property.
The team's Gamma Watermark process puts a unique, date-stamped tag of nearly microscopic size on or within an object and does so easily, inexpensively, and safely. The essentially invisible watermark, containing a precisely metered mixture of radioisotopes, can be sensed and read out for decades thereafter with an appropriate detector. Use of the Gamma Watermark establishes ownership irrefutably and is analogous to DNA fingerprinting.
The new technology promises to be as revolutionary a method of identification and authentication as the digital watermark has become to digitized visual and audio data. The process is applicable to a vast range of material objects, from artwork and CD-ROMs to paper items such as contracts and deeds. In contrast to other forms of watermarking (digital, paper, and embedded silicon chips), the process should enjoy far wider applicability because of its low cost, tiny size, ease of use, and safety.
Signatures with Radioscopes
Watermark Can Be Buried
New Weapon for Museums|
One of the technology's first uses may be to provide an unprecedented level of theft and counterfeiting protection to museums and collections, both public and private. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is interested in the system as a way of protecting fossils and other artifacts located on public lands. A tagging system based on the Gamma Watermark would aid the BLM and law enforcement agents in recovering fossils illegally obtained from public lands, as well as provide evidence for subsequent prosecution. The system would also allow paleontologists and archaeologists to tag specimens while still in the field. Companies that produce computer software are also interested in the technology as a means of foiling rampant counterfeiters and of permanently branding their products by providing counterfeit-resistant (and hidden) certificates of authenticity.
Although the product price will be determined by companies licensed to use the novel technology, the mass production unit cost of some forms of the Gamma Watermark is estimated to be a small fraction of one dollar. The extraordinarily low price is due to the extremely small quantity of radioisotope needed for each watermark. A small vial of radioisotope, for example, might be sufficient to generate 10 million watermarks. (The cost of reading a Gamma Watermark, of course, is expected to entail much higher costs because of the detection equipment and trained personnel required.)
Team members envision that the technology will gradually infiltrate households. In a few years, someone might purchase a Gamma Watermark kit at an office supply store and use it to uniquely identify a valuable personal possession. From museums to stores to living rooms, the new technology is sure to make an indelible mark on countless items-and help people in all walks of life protect their property.
Key Words: DNA fingerprinting, digital watermark, gamma rays, Gamma Watermark.
For further information contact Muriel Y. Ishikawa (925) 423-4178(firstname.lastname@example.org).