Radio-frequency identification (RFID) would be used for commercial product activation, according to a proposal. The concept of RFID is not new: RFID systems are widely used in commerce for tracking such diverse assets as animals, credit cards, and retail products. Also not new is the concept of manufacturing commercial products to be nonfunctional or unusable until activated at points of sale or in response to electronic submission of proof of purchase. What is new here is the concept of combining RFID with activation — more specifically, using RFID for activating commercial products (principally, electronic ones) and for performing such ancillary functions as tracking individual product units on production lines, tracking shipments, and updating inventories (see figure).

An RFID Chip embedded in each product at manufacture would be used to track the product through the entire supply chain and would be used to activate the product at the point of sale.
According to the proposal, an RFID chip would be embedded in each product. The information encoded in the chip would include a unique number for identifying the product. An RFID reader at the point of sale would record the number of the product and would write digital information to the RFID chip for either immediate activation of the product or for later interrogation and processing.

To be practical, an RFID product-activation system should satisfy a number of key requirements:

  • The system should be designed to be integrable into the inventory-tracking and the data-processing and -communication infrastructures of businesses along the entire supply chain from manufacture to retail.
  • The system should be resistant to sophisticated hacking.
  • Activation codes should be made sufficiently complex to minimize the probability of activating stolen products.
  • RFID activation equipment at points of sale must be capable of two-way RF communication for the purposes of reading information from, and writing information to, embedded RFID chips.
  • The equipment at points of sale should be easily operable by sales clerks with little or no training.
  • The point-of-sale equipment should verify activation and provide visible and/or audible signals indicating verification or the lack thereof.
  • The system should be able to handle millions of products per year with minimal human intervention.
  • The system should support non-simultaneous dual data-communication interfaces: (1) the RF link between the product- activation infrastructure and the RFID chip in each product and (2) a serial link, within each product, between the RFID chip and a control circuit.
  • To the extent possible, the system should be constructed using relatively inexpensive off-the-shelf RFID equipment and methods that conform to international standards and that involve minimal additions to pre-existing manufacturing processes and facilities.
  • RFID chips should not contain batteries: instead, they should derive power from interrogating RF fields.

This work was done by Thomas Jedrey and Eric Archer of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to:

Innovative Technology Assets Management


Mail Stop 202-233

4800 Oak Grove Drive

Pasadena, CA 91109-8099

(818) 354-2240

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Refer to NPO-42633, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Commercial Product Activation Using RFID

(reference NPO-42633) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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This article first appeared in the June, 2008 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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