The SIR – the Next Frontier in Security Images

The International Hologram Manufacturers Association (IHMA), which 20 years ago launched the Hologram Image Register (HIR) – often described as the ‘jewel in the crown’ for the trade body – has recently expanded the register to incorporate all optically v variable security images. The result is the Security Image Register (SIR), the only database of its kind for the security community, which safeguards copyright and helps deter attempt to copy security images, inadvertently or otherwise.

Holography News™ spoke to the newly- elected Chairman of the IHMA, Dr Mark Deakes, to find out more about the IHMA and the newly-launched SIR, what it involves, how it benefits manufacturers and issuers, and how it will help advance the security of overt features for document and product protection.

IHMA Newly-Elected Chairman Dr Mark Deakes.

Q: Congratulations on your election as Chairman of the IHMA. Please would you provide a brief overview of your education and work experience indicating their relevance for this role.

A: Academically, I have degree in Chemistry and a PhD in Physical Chemistry, as well as an MBA.

Following my PhD I began my working career with Sun Chemical in the UK EuroLab as a research chemist formulating coldset lithographic inks. I then joined De La Rue where I worked for 15 years in roles involving R&D, process engineering, new product development and technical management, and technical sales for tax stamps, product authentication and ID products.

This was followed by a position for five years as Director of Optical & Authentication Technologies for Reconnaissance International, where I was also the IHMA General Secretary. During this time, we grew the IHMA membership, transformed the finances of the association, transitioned the Hologram Image Register from a manual to online process and introduced new policies and member benefits. These experiences were great, and I learned enormously.

I then headed back to De La Rue to head up their technology research area for a couple of years and also became the elected European IHMA board member, before being approached by ITW to lead their R&D efforts in holography.

So, I think my technical, holographic, sales, previous IHMA experience and industry knowledge and network coupled with my academic credentials brings a holistic approach and view to the role with unique insights. This is enabling me to ‘hit the ground running’ and build on the good work my predecessor (Dr Paul Dunn) and board spearheaded.

Q: Can you provide some background now to the IHMA?

A: The IHMA is a not-for-profit organisation founded in 1993 to represent the interests of hologram manufacturers and the hologram industry worldwide. It is dedicated to promoting the interests of the hologram industry internationally and to helping users achieve their commercial, aesthetic and authentication objectives through the effective use of holography.

Currently we have around 80 members from across the globe and are looking to grow the membership.

Q: How important is the security element of the membership of the IHMA?

A: The security element of the membership of the IHMA is very important, in fact it underpins the association. That’s not to say members who are not in the security sector are not important; they are as equally important – there are just less of them in the world.

Q: Given the multiplicity of applications for holographic technology, do you think this ‘degrades’ its value as a security feature.

A: No not at all. Whilst holography’s applications are wide and continue to grow, the growth in different applications shows the technology’s incredible versatility, richness and diversity, albeit in different applications compared to security features, which most people will probably associate holography with.

I continue to be amazed and in awe of versatility of holographic technology in areas such as head up displays, sat navs, medical diagnostics, sensing applications, educational purposes, product development, communication… the list is endless. The technology is one of the few that has diverse applications that can serve and benefit humanity.

Q: The IHMA has recently launched the Security Image Register (SIR), as an expansion of the Hologram Image Register. Can you give the background to the register and explain the change?

A: The use of holograms as part of a robust authentication and security component solution is supported through the registration of security images on the new Security Image Register, which was previously called the Hologram Image Register. Originally launched in 1993 and run by the Counterfeiting Intelligence Bureau on behalf of the IHMA, it is the only system of its kind for the authentication community.

It is a centrally held global database of secure OVDs, which now numbers over 10,000, and enables hologram and OVD manufacturers and producers to verify, at the time a new OVD is being designed or originated, that the design, or elements of it, do not infringe copyright. It also deters the inadvertent copying of existing OVDs.

It has evolved from the HIR to the SIR to reflect the broader changes and trends in the market. Holograms, dominant though they are, are not the only security feature component choice in a well thought out authentication solution, and at the IHMA we are very aware of this.

Combined with the change in the market, some members who produce holograms also produce other security features, so we have listened, consulted and thought hard before making the change. The overarching idea was to maintain security whilst making the register broader and more inclusive to other OVD technologies.

Q: In addition to holograms, what other technologies are now eligible for registration?

A: 12 additional primary OVD technology groups (13 in total including holograms) can now be registered, which include caustics, colour change, dielectric, DOVID, lenses, plasmonics, photonic crystal, print, reflection, polarization, waveguides and sub-wavelength gratings, and a combination of these. All were previously eligible but only if integrated with holographic technology. They are now eligible as stand-alone or combinational features whether or not they include a holographic element.

Some of primary OVD technologies are further sub-grouped to enable a more accurate description of the specific technology utilised.

In total there are 22 sub-groups, and this may change as new technologies emerge.

Q: What are the benefits – from the perspective of members (suppliers) and end users (eg. printers, issuing authorities)?

A: Apart from promoting legitimacy and credibility to customers, the benefits are primarily based around copyright protection and ownership, which is common theme of conflict between OVD manufacturers, but also at times between manufacturers and customers.

To provide some background, international copyright law is based on the premise that copyright automatically vests in the originator or creator of an original work. This falls within agreed standards set out in the Berne Convention, standards which all countries’ copyright laws are required to meet.

If, as a customer, you pay for an OVD / hologram, you do not automatically own the copyright on the design or the master image, even if it contains your, or your end customer’s, copyrighted logo or artwork. It’s surprising how many senior managers in large companies do not understand this point. As a customer, you can only own copyright if you provided the full security image design or, alternatively agree in writing with the OVD manufacturer to re- assign copyright to you.

Moreover, if an OVD / hologram or design already exists you cannot replicate it without the written approval of the hologram copyright owner, NOT the customer (unless, of course, it has been re-assigned). In other words, the original design and image copyright will always reside with the originating company.

Understanding the basic rights and ownership of copyright within an OVD design and its manufacture plays a key role in the integrity of their use as a security product. Failure to understand these basic rights leads to the inadvertent creation of counterfeit OVDs, legal and costly battles over ownership, incurring additional licensing costs, revenue loss and provides clear opportunities for counterfeiters.

Registering security images with the SIR can help avoid all these issues.

Q: How does the SIR work?

A: There are two steps to registration.

First is the design check, which is key, whereby all the various graphical features of the security image along with its corresponding copyright information are submitted to the CIB. They will then use that input to interrogate the database. When the checks have been completed, and there is no match or partial match to an existing image, the member will be advised by the issue of a reference clearance notification and can then proceed to manufacture and full registration, which is the second step.

On completion of the image, the applicant submits all of its optical security and physical characteristics, along with information on proprietary methods and technologies and a physical sample, at which point a digital registration certificate is issued.

If, however, the design or an element of the design (eg. a logo) already exists on the database, the CIB will issue a warning notification, along with information on how to proceed.

The SIR thereby ensures the design is owned by the manufacturer and no other image exists, or it identifies a potential conflict.

Q: Who can register images, and how?

A: Both members and non-members can register images. The latter wishing to register will go through an approval process with the IHMA Secretariat to ensure they are legitimate and compliant with the IHMA code of conduct before their registration can proceed.

Q: Can a secure repository ever be truly secure? How do you go about ensuring that the integrity and confidentiality of the data is maintained?

A: Firstly, the SIR and database is run and maintained on behalf of the IHMA by the CIB, which is part of the Commercial Crimes Services, the anti-crime arm of the International Chamber of Commerce which is recognised globally.

The SIR database complies with the latest standards for security and also has resilience built into the systems and platform.

Moreover, members can only submit their images for registration and the only access they have to the database is for their own current and historical records. This ensures total security of the database.

Q: Can you provide any examples of how the register, or rather its forerunner, has been used to determine copyright and/or prevent counterfeiting?

A: Without breaching any confidentialities, the HIR register has been very successful used in determining copyright and preventing inadvertent duplication and/or counterfeiting. I can think of a number of copyright issues when I was General Secretary of the IHMA that have happened where the HIR database has been instrumental both in ensuring copyright is safeguarded and in flagging up counterfeit attempts.

Likewise, there have been several times where the HIR database has been pivotal in helping enforcement agencies in helping take down organised counterfeiting of security documents.

Q: The SIR will obviously only succeed if the end customers/users want it and request its use of their suppliers. How are you going about promoting it to both suppliers and end-users?

A: The IHMA is promoting the use of the SIR via a number of channels including online webinars, social media, and presentations at industry conferences.

We are also targeting articles in industry newsletters, partner associations and PR media networks.

We are promoting the SIR in particular to end users/customers, and we are also looking at a specific service for government law enforcement agencies, and in particular forensic document examiners within these agencies, several of whom have approached us, to help support their work.

Q: Does registration, or do you foresee registration, being a condition of standards or tenders?

A: It already is in some cases. For example, a database of security images is part of the Intergraf ISO14298 Management of Security Print Process, which states that ‘all requests for new security foil images shall be verified as unique using a database of security foils. If a duplicate is detected, it must be reconciled to verify if a counterfeit is being requested. All new security foil images shall be registered using a database of security foils’.

Whilst the standard doesn’t actually name the HIR (and, now, the SIR), it is the only such database of security images in existence.

But I don’t foresee registration being an absolute mandatory condition across all standards for this sector. Personally, however, I would always advocate registration on the SIR as good practice to ensure IHMA members’ customers receive the highest level of confidence and assurance.

We are aware of tender pre-conditions where an organisation has to be a member of the IHMA to participate in tenders and we would recommend this, provided it is compliant with any legal requirements.

Q: Is registration of images limited to members of the IHMA, or can anyone? If not a member, how are they validated?

A: Indeed, registrations are welcomed from non-IHMA members, for whom there is a charge for this this service to cover costs (it’s free to IHMA members).

Non-IHMA members wishing to register will go through an approval process with the IHMA Secretariat to ensure the company is bona fide and compliant with the IHMA code of conduct, after which they will be referred to the CIB.

But in addition, given the interest among producers of non-holographic optically variable security features and their customers, we have just agreed an amendment to the IHMA membership criteria so that such producers can also now become members of the IHMA as well. This is because, if they become habitual applicants, then it works out much cheaper to be a member than to pay separately for each image search and registration.

Q: If the SIR, as the cornerstone of the IHMA, covers all security features based on optically variable effects, and members don’t have to be hologram manufacturers, then will you change the name of the IHMA?

A: Not at the moment. That said, this is something the board has wrestled with from time to time, so never say never.

Like all organisations we must evolve and adapt to the external environment, but the success of the IHMA has meant that its name and brand has become well known which is something we are proud of and are keen to grow and maintain.