Merck’s new patent brings a whole new meaning to the term “object permanence.”

Pharmaceutical firm Merck KGaA has been granted a US patent that combines artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain technology in an attempt to “protect integrity of supply chains and avoid counterfeit.” The new patent outlines a system through which physical objects can be linked to a blockchain, becoming what Merck calls a “crypto-object.”

Merck’s press release says the envisioned technology uses machine learning to link physical objects to a blockchain through unique identifiers called “fingerprints.” Any unique feature can be used as an object’s fingerprint, from its physical patterns to its chemical signature or DNA. The patent outlines the fingerprinting process:

“The method comprises (i) receiving object data representing one or more discriminating characteristics of a physical object or a group of physical objects; (ii) processing the object data by means of a machine-learning-based object recognition process to obtain discriminating data representing one or more … virtual representations of the physical object or group of physical objects.”
Once a fingerprint has been created and the object becomes a crypto-object, additional data such as time or location can be included as another layer of security. When the crypto-object is then received by its supplier or consumer, the supplier is able to “[compare] at least one of the discriminating data … with corresponding reference data stored in one or more repositories with restricted access.”

Merck believes that by storing a crypto-object’s fingerprint on a blockchain, businesses will be able to provide a level of “certainty and defense” to its customers. The press release cites a study from the World Health Organization that estimated over 50 percent of medicines purchased on illegal websites are fake. The firm also hints at taking this technology beyond its pharmaceutical roots, citing a study by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development that says nearly one in five mobile phones and one in four video game consoles shipped internationally is fake.

This latest patent follows two similar patents granted to Merck in June 2018. Patent numbers 10,002,362 and 10,002,277 cover the “integration of physical materials into the digital world, the protection of the corresponding hardware, and … the enhancement of existing security functions.”

Author: Nicholas Ruggieri
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