Imagine taking antibiotics to treat an infection, only to learn that the dose is insufficient, leaving you immune to the drug. Or unknowingly feeding your baby formula laced with dangerous chemicals. Events such as these are not unheard of, as counterfeiters produce increasingly convincing fakes. The World Economic Forum estimates that illegal drugs and fake products each represent roughly 8% of world trade.

Many industries are affected. We know that counterfeiters have created substantial amounts of fake HP products, diverting revenue from our business and damaging our reputation. To address this, experts in HP's Printing and Content Delivery Lab are working on a project called SPIEGEL (Secure Printing and Imaging Engineering Geared Toward Enterprise Lifecycle). SPIEGEL combines HP technologies including printing and imaging, content transformation, analytics, and cloud computing to identify and remove counterfeit products from the market.

Here's how. Every product carries printed information such as a barcode or label. Advances in printing technology make it easy to customize this information and harder for counterfeiters to copy it. Items can now be traced from point of origin throughout the supply chain.

Printing technologies are just the first step. HP uses forensic imaging hardware and analytical software to check unique printed information at various points in the supply chain, verify authentic products, and spot counterfeits. We then work with local authorities to remove the fakes. While we developed the technology to identify counterfeit HP products, we now also help customers monitor their own supply chains.

The SPIEGEL team continues to develop new uses for this innovative technology, such as streamlining food and product recalls to remove compromised products from the shelves as quickly as possible, and improving the security of online document storage. In Nigeria and Ghana, we have teamed up with a nonprofit organization called mPedigree and other organizations to provide a mobile phone-based medicine authentication system. (Learn more in Social innovation – Health.) This system enables patients to confirm that their medication is genuine when they purchase it, using only a basic mobile phone.

These efforts contribute to our broader goal of ensuring a seamless, transparent, secure, and traceable chain of information from the physical, printed world into the digital realm and back again.