RFID Can Help in Pharma's Fight Against Counterfeiting, But...

Dallas — December 8, 2006 — Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology is poised to help the pharmaceutical supply chain fight increasing instances of counterfeiting, but the industry needs to align itself behind uniform standards and receive additional regulatory guidance from the federal government, according to a new white paper from Texas Instruments.

A growing number of counterfeit, gray market and diverted products are entering the pharmaceutical supply chain, compromising consumer confidence in the authenticity of their prescription drugs, TI writes in the white paper, "RFID Tag Data Security Infrastructure: A Common Ground Approach for Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Safety."

In the white paper, TI asserts that the pharma industry must agree on item-level tagging (ILT) standards, seek regulatory guidance from the federal government and gain alignment on a tag data security infrastructure (TDSI) before RFID can reach its potential to help combat the counterfeit problem.

Cross-industry Approach Needed

The white paper defines the key deliverables and requirements needed to achieve agreement between segments of the supply chain concerned with privacy, as well as the ability to use product information to improve operational efficiencies. In addition to defining the necessary elements for deploying RFID at the item-level, TI's paper lays the foundation for a TDSI for these initiatives.

The TDSI is a set of rules, specifications and common protocols that enable item-level tags and readers to work within and across the industry's information technology ecosystem. This proposed approach has the potential to unify the industry's efforts to achieve a safer and more secure pharmaceutical supply chain, according to TI.

"The TDSI model is about delivering a secure RFID solution that raises confidence in the authenticity of prescriptions while protecting privacy," said Joseph Pearson, business development manager with TI-RFid Systems and author of the new white paper. "By augmenting network-based applications with the capability of anytime, anywhere authentication and product information, we're bringing together all pharmaceutical supply chain stakeholders, while laying the groundwork for other high-value branded goods markets."

Solution Providers Line Up

Various RFID infrastructure providers also support the need for a secure tag data infrastructure. Gregg Metcalf, industry market manager at Nosco, a producer of RFID-enabled pharmaceutical printed packaging, said: "Using an EPC number as its cornerstone, the secure tag data infrastructure proposed in TI's paper always supports network-based applications. Further, the paper's support of the need for decentralized data is very important to gain acceptance by the entire supply chain."

Rick Raber, chief technologist for RFID integrator Northern Apex, which provides RFID solutions for a variety of industries, said that beyond improvements against counterfeiting, pharmaceutical manufacturers and retailers have different end uses in mind for tag data, "The approach outlined in TI's paper supports both those who want applications with data accessed completely from a database, and others who may want data from the tag directly for local applications, like a smart shelf for automatic inventory," Raber said.

Finally, Fred Veinot, vice president of business development at Sirit, a provider of RFID reader technology, said that the cryptography proposed in TI's paper would enable a single standardized methodology for tags and readers that takes both authentication and product encryption capability into consideration. "This is significant because an internationally accepted cryptographic standard will be critical for industry agreement on an item-level tag standard in EPCglobal working groups," Veinot said.

The TI white paper is available (registration required) at http://www.ti.com/rfid/shtml/form-wp-TDSI_13_nov_06.shtml.

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