Technology Transfer News

Back to News Index

Steganography locks up Security in Technology Transfer Deal

Documents International, Volume 3, Number 1, 2004
Reprinted by Technology Transfer Group May 27, 2004

No Cracking Security

The bad guys might conceivably work out the prime codes for DNA coded inks, but not the steganographic unlocking mechanism. Technology Transfer Group's Wendell Smith tells Pauline Covell. TTG has recently licensed DNA Technologies to develop and market the process.

Nothing gives Wendell Smith a greater kick than "seeing ventures come together in the international business world." When Documents International talked to the founder and president of the international consultancy Poletstar Ltd in December he had just completed a conference call between Canada, California and China to discuss a technology transfer deal involving the latest in brand and document security the use of DNA codes.

Previously chairman of press controls specialist Baldwin Technology Co (techno-trans AG, of Germany has recently announced its intention to acquire the Connecticut based company) where Polestar led the investment group in a buy out in 1986, Wendell Smith is now best known internationally for his work in holographic technology and more recently DNA steganography (hiding authentication information inside similar information).

In 1995, with two associates, and with Polestar as the parent company, he formed Bermuda based Technology Transfer Group (TTG). "The intention was to establish a licensing and technology oriented company that would assist developers in the new technology from the security printing world," he explained. "We saw ourselves as the bridge from science to business. We made contacts with inventors of technology and carried them around the world creating licenses and business arrangements."

In the late 1990s, for example, TTG secured what is believed to be the largest holography technology transfer ever contracted. It managed the project one of the largest holography production facilities in the world involving everything from vacuum metalization to origination to embossing and to finished product for Norinco of Shandong, China. The Group worked side by side with Segue Group, of Los Angeles, in helping it become the winning prime contractor in what was a hotly contested bidding competition. TTG assembled a team of the world's most skilled and highly regarded suppliers to the holography industry including General Vacuum, Foil mark, Alpha Machine and Light Impression International.

"In all these initial activities where we completed several licensing arrangements, TTG was paid a percentage or a dollar fee for our time and energy," Wendell Smith recalled. "Our goal was that the overseas company could achieve everything it needed through the transfer of knowledge, the use of patents and equipment investment. But our efforts, although successful, meant that as each case was completed we left the site and the work was over. We feel that the security print world has a much better opportunity for the sharing of ideas between various players." He added: "I find the continual sharing in the technology and the marketing agreements very satisfying from both a business and social point of view. So in 2000 we shifted to joint ventures and marketing and sales agreements that are tied to certain technology and patents."

Code of life

The most recent step taken involves DNA Lock tm, "the ultimate forensic verification" invented and patented by Dr. Carter Bancroft and Dr. Catherine Clelland of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

"Companies have used DNA taggants before, but the DNA itself can be recovered from a marked object and could be copied," explained Wendell Smith in a recent paper to last year's PISEC conference in Prague. However, "the DNA steganography patents will make any of these processes much better by hiding the secret DNA code inside a complex soup of DNA codes. Only the intended user can discover and read the authentication DNA code." The DNA used for inks and taggants is a combination of manufactured synthetic DNA.

Just how do they work? "A DNA molecule is constructed containing an encoded message flanked by PCR (polymerase chain reaction) primer keys. The molecule is hidden by millions of other similar looking DNA molecules. It is like looking for a DNA needle in an enormous DNA haystack," expanded Wendell Smith. "The message is then further concealed in a microdot!"

"TTG has in its own name acquired the worldwide rights to the patent. Now DNA Technologies of Halifax Canada has taken a license and engaged Technology Transfer Group in a consulting arrangement. Mount Sinai will also be involved. They have very clever people and we want to encourage the developers to have an on-going relationship with Doctors Clelland and Bancroft," he enthused.

"DNA Technologies have been in the security marking sector since 1994. They will incorporate the patents into their 11 or 12 other patents in the field. It will make it the icing on the cake for them." But the move goes further. He revealed: "They have arranged a technology agreement with a specialist laboratory in Montreal, a company that manages some of the countries finest clinical and development laboratories. They bring deep-seated biological and DNA lad testing facilities. That brings practical experimentation to this type of security printing. It allows important potential customers' questions such as 'how do we know how long these inks and taggants will be effective' to be answered. They will also provide the basic forensic testing capability for the ultimate anti counterfeiting mark that comes with the DNA steganography technology.

China is likely to be an important new market for sophisticated taggants, DNA Technologies has been working with a major Chinese company, SVA for 9 months. "SVA employs some 20,000 people in an electronics and communications business. It already has established a security printing business unit and has agreed with DNA Technologies to bring these developments to China. There is a great focus on the part of the Chinese government to control the movement of counterfeit goods. On that depends their entry into the World Trade Organization agreement."

Just why has TTG taken this step with DNA Technologies (who incidentally already has a Canadian government grant of Canadian $3M to move the technology forward). "It is really one more part of the strategy I have worked on for the last three or four years," he explained: "These stand alone technologies are impossible for end users to enact or even comprehend. But there are several companies round the world that act as integrators sometimes bringing three, four or as many as 15 security methods together in a label or a document. And we are taking these technology stories to them."

He continued: "DNA Technologies has already developed a top class toolkit of security solutions: infrared up converters; UV/florescent materials and DNA taggant Their DNA Matrix tm line will be expanded with the DNA Lock tm Steganography line. They have many patents in this field, and can offer the top range of taggants.

Clearly price is always a question asked although with today's need for security, not nearly as sensitive as say commercial print. "One DNA mark could cost $10,000," he explains, "but if 10 million marks a month are made with tagged ink, the cost is less than the usual cost of a hologram."

On another tack Wendell Smith sees digital printing as going a long way in meeting security needs. For example last year he patented DocuLock™ a computer system with a special secure printer, which is equipped with a digital "watermarking" capability. The printer will mark ordinary paper in a unique way that can be forensically proven as to be the one original document intended (see Documents International October 2003). "More and more documents are produced on desktop printers. At present, when instructed to print the secure document, the recipient's computer will do so and as many times as instructed. But the DocuLock printer can be addressed, linked to the document source certification, and then print one and only one securely marked 'original'. It can be arranged to print only if the files is from a selected source, only if it has not been opened, print only one document and with a security mark that can be forensically validated," he explained.

"The printer can have DNA ink and a digitally embodied hologram," he announced. "Impress Systems in Massachusetts has patented a process and printing machine that digitally transfers a hologram to a document. It can be numbered or individualized page by page.

"This means that a document produced in this way can be a negotiable instrument." He is already talking to the digital press manufacturers.

Wendell Smith's cv concludes: "dedicated to entrepreneurship and the pursuit of business in life and life in business." I'm convinced!

Polestar LTD
Tel: +1 441 293 8838
Back to News Index