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A handy bargaining tool.
A handy bargaining tool.
Carlo Lavalle

TURIN — How many times have you shopped at a market and found yourself admiring a bag or wallet, wondering whether it was really made by the famous brand displayed on its label?

Thanks to the camera on your smartphone and a forthcoming app, it soon will be possible to verify, in real time, whether a product is counterfeit. The idea came from Japanese IT company NEC Corp., whose system can compare user photos of bags and wallets with those on their cloud-based database.

Existing technology such as Italy's 3C System already allows consumers to scan barcodes before purchase to check the product's legitimacy. But not all products have readable barcodes, and not all are sold in stores. By contrast, NEC's technology — although still in testing phases and expected to be released in 2016 — is reportedly able to work on even tiny objects such as dice or bolts where it's more difficult to spot a serial number or barcode.

The project works with photos of original products saved on its database and compares them with photos taken by users. The precision level is impressively high: just one error in 1 million.

According to Toshihiko Hiroaki, senior manager at Central Research Laboratories, the innovation will offer businesses new opportunities in the biometric systems market. But it will mean hard times for counterfeiters, who in Italy alone generate about 6.5 billion euros ($8.1 billion) annually.

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