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Technical Field
The present invention relates to a marking and identification system and particularly to a method and to 5 apparatus for use in performing said method.

Background Art
Conventional methods for security marking articles, particularly metal articles, (for example tubular

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>.u u --,-_ιi *-, *_: extent on paint marking or die-stamping words or numbers (e.g. the name of the manufacturer or a code number) onto the article. Such conventional methods have a number of significant disadvantages. In particular, the mark may 5 readily be erased from a stolen article, or disguised. In the case of long articles, stamping the whole way along the length of the article has been attempted, but with little success; abrasion along the length of a scaffolding piece, for example, is little more 0 troublesome than abrasion of a single word or code number. The marking process may require a certain amount of skill and care. A code of letters and/or numerals has such a direct reference to the owner at the time of marking that difficulties can arise if the article is 5 later lawfully sold; and in some cases (e.g. postal coding) the marking is not completely unique to a particular owner.
Disclosure of Invention
The present invention enables one to mark articles in a way allowing subsequent identification, thus improving both the prospects of conviction in the event of theft of the articles, and the prospects of recovery of the stolen property, and hence deterring the potential thief.
According to the present invention, there is provided a method for marking and identifying an article, comprising:
forming on a portion of the article a plurality of markings arranged relative to one another according to a predetermined relationship to constitute an identifying pattern;
making one or more identifying means having a pattern of markings arranged thereon in the same relationship as the markings formed on the article; and subsequently checking the identify of an article provided with an identifying pattern by comparing the pattern on the identifying means with the same pattern on the article or on a reproduction thereof so as to check the correspondence of the pattern on the identifying means with the pattern on the article and to identify the article accordingly.
Preferably the identifying means is a template having markings whose spatial distribution corresponds to that of the markings of the identifying pattern; and correspondence is checked by locating the template over the pattern. Preferably the markings of the template are holes.
Preferably all the markings are holes extending through a portion (e.g. a wall or sheet portion) of the article, the holes being spaced apart from one another. However, if markings other than holes are present, they may suitably be depressions in the said portion of the article. All holes or markings may be of the same diameter.
By assigning specific meanings to particular locations of markings, particular sizes or numbers of holes, particular sizes or depths of depressions, particular combinations of holes/depressions, etc., a considerable amount of information, e.g. about the owner of the article at the time of marking, the date, month, quarter or year of marking can be encoded in the pattern of markings, or can be entered on a central register by arranging for the markings to code for a registration number.
The markings may be formed on the article by bringing mutually together an unmarked article and a plurality of engraving means, e.g. rotating drill bits, positioned relative to one another to correspond to the desired final arrangement of markings on the article, urging the engraving means against the article to form the markings, and subsequently withdrawing them from contact with the article.
The drill bits are conveniently mounted to drill heads provided on a jig, the drill heads being independently moveable in conventional manner to any desired location above the article within the limits of the portion of the article to be marked.
Alternatively, a larger number of rotatable drill heads or other engraving means may be provided in a fixed array (preferably an irregular array) on the jig, and particular chosen ones used as required. The positions of the unused ones could readily be hidden from unauthorised view by a perforated shield through which only the desired ones could protrude, to protect the secrecy of the position code.
If it is desired to form some holes and some depressions in the article, the engraving means may be mounted to the jig to extend different distances from it, and the distance of relative movement of the jig towards the article controlled so that some engraving means do not completely penetrate the portion (e.g. wall) of the article.
Alternatively the markings may be formed by initially locating template over an unmarked portion of the article, the template having markings, e.g. perforations, positioned relative to one another so as to correspond to the desired final arrangement of markings on the article, and subsequently bringing mutually together, through each desired perforation in turn, the article and a marking tool (e.g. a rotating drill bit or an engraving tool); engaging the tools with the article to form the marking; and withdrawing the tool from contact with the article, so as to form the desired marking arrangement.
The template for use in the above security marking method suitably comprises a body portion adapted to overlie a portion of an article desired to be marked, the body portion being provided with a plurality of perforations positioned relative to one another to correspond to the desired final arrangement of markings on the article and each adapted to guide the tool as it passes therethrough into and out of contact with the article.
The invention is also applicable to marking relatively fragile articles, e.g. comprising glass or plastics, by forming patterns of depressions, e.g. by scratching or engraving.
The invention provides dramatic improvements in security marking. Filling in holes of a stolen marked scaffolding pole or other metal article, for example by spot-welding, can readily be detected by etching and visual examination. Drilling new holes in a stolen marked pole can readily be detected by examination of the exposed metal of the sides of the holes; the sides of the added holes will have quite a different appearance unless made by the same drill bit as the original holes.
For further understanding of the present invention, an embodiment will now be described, by way of example and without limitation, with reference to the accompanying drawings.
Brief Description of the Drawings
Fig. 1 illustrates schematically a scaffolding pole and marking apparatus, viewed from the side;
Fig. 2 illustrates schematically the pole and apparatus of Fig. 1, viewed from the top;
Fig. 3 illustrates in perspective means for checking the authenticity of the pole of Fig. 1 after marking;
Fig. 4 illustrates in perspective a portion of a hover-type lawnmower housing about to be security marked in a second embodiment of the invention;
Fig. 5 shows in perspective a portion of a video recorder about to be security marked in a third embodiment of the invention; and
Fig. 6 shows a master template.
Modes for Carrying out the Invention
Referring to Figures 1-3, a tubular metal scaffolding pole 1 lies beneath a drill jig 2 of generally conventional construction and carrying three drill bits 3 (e.g. 7.5mm bits) in three of its seven drill heads 4. Means for rotating the drill heads are provided (not shown) in conventional manner.
In the embodiment illustrated the drill heads 4 ( shown in dotted lines in Fig. 2 ) are provided in fixed, but irregularly located, positions. Alternatively, however, the drill heads 4 may be arranged to move on the jig 2 longitudinally or laterally, to enable the drill heads to be moved, repositioned on the jig and retained there in the new position.
The drill bits 3 overlie the scaffolding pole 1, which is held fast beneath the jig 2 by clamps or other conventional holding means (not shown).
To mark the pole 1 the drill bits 3 are rotated and the jig 2 brought down in direction of arrow A a sufficient distance to drill three holes 5 in the pole.
The procedure is repeated at intervals (not shown) along the pole 1, the spacing between adjacent groups of markings along the pole being chosen to be advantageously slightly less than the standard minimum scaffolding pole length ( in the United Kingdom 5 feet ( 1.5m) ) , to prevent a marked pole from being cut down to a standard size between groups of markings.
A checking template 6 is made from a curved sheet 7 perforated in the same pattern as the pattern of drill heads on the jig. The template is manufactured in substantially the same manner as the pole is marked, but substituting the curved sheet 7 for the pole 1 and completely drilling holes in all positions used in the code.
In this example the pattern of three holes drilled represents an identifying mark indicative e.g. of the date of marking or purchase and the lawful owner. To confirm the authenticity of a marked pole, the template 6 is placed onto the pole and the alignment of the respective holes in the template 6 and the pole 1 is checked. The template has more than three holes, and can be regarded as a master template that can be used for a very large number of different codes, corresponding to different subsets selected from its apertures. Different subsets might correspond to different owners of sets of marked articles, on to different sets of stock of a single owner or user.
The above method is also tamper-proof, since spot-welding of holes in scaffolding poles to fill in the holes, apart from being time consuming and difficult to perform covertly, can be readily detected afterwards by forensic analysis of the pole. Similarly, if new holes are drilled in stolen poles in an effort to pass the poles off as being of ownership other than their lawful ownership, the template 6 would have to be first obtained and the code understood. (Desirably the holes in the template are irregularly spaced. ) Even if that could be achieved, the markings made by the later drill bit gouging into the metal would be different from the original drill markings and this discrepancy would be time-consuming or impossible to disguise.
Fig. 4 relates to a second type of embodiment. It shows a lawnmower housing 10 being security marked by firstly locating (see arrows A) against the portion to be marked a template 12 formed of a metal sheet 13 perforated in a pattern of holes 14 corresponding to the arrangement of markings desired to be applied to the housing. The template 12 may suitably be located to the housing 10 by means of self-tapping screws 15 passing through suitably placed screw holes 16 provided in the template.
The template holes 14 are slightly larger than a drilling bit 15 of a conventional home-use electric hand-drill 16 and guide the bit 15 into contact with the housing 10 when the drill 16 is moved forwards in the direction of arrow B. A first hole is thereby formed and the procedure is repeated for each hole 14 in the template.
By maintaining a central register of template owners, and by appropriately endorsing the register when a particular marked article is lawfully sold or otherwise disposed of, a stolen marked article can be uniquely identified by merely making a reproduction of the marking pattern on the stolen article, converting it to a unique reference number according to a pre-determined formula, and retrieving the registration details relating to that number from the register. The conversion may make use of a template.
An example of how the relative positions of the markings may be converted to a reference number for registration purposes is a grid reference formula, in which each hole is represented by two numbers, one referring to a horizontal position from a known zero, and one referring to a vertical position from the known zero. In effect the fixing screw holes 16 in the template define the positions of the axes for such an identification system.
Fig. 5 relates to a third type of embodiment. It shows a video recorder 20 being security marked, by firstly locating (see arrows A) against the portion to be marked a template 22 formed of a plastics sheet 23 perforated in a pattern of holes 24 corresponding to the arrangement of markings desired to be applied to the video recorder.
The template holes 24 are slightly larger than a hand-held diamond-tipped stylus 25 and guide the diamond tip into contact with the recorder 20 when the stylus 25 is moved forwards in the direction of arrow B. By twisting the stylus against the recorder 20 through a first hole 24 a circular depression is formed on the surface of the recorder housing and the procedure is repeated for each hole 24 in the template.
By maintaining a central register of template owners, and by appropriately endorsing the register when a particular marked article is lawfully sold or otherwise disposed of, a stolen marked article can be uniquely identified by merely making a reproduction of the marking pattern on the stolen article, converting it to a unique reference number according to a predetermined formula, and retrieving the registration details relating to that number from the register.
The template and stylus may conveniently form part of a kit of parts comprising, for example, any or all of the following: instructions, registration forms and other such papers, one or more corresponding metal templates for use in marking more robust articles, e.g. by drilling holes with an electric hand-drill rather than scratching depressions, and optionally template reproductions for sending to the central registry with the registration papers at the time of first registration.
Fig. 6 shows a master template 30. This is a metal sheet, preferably rigid. The illustrated example is flat, but for use in marking non-flat articles it could be shaped, e.g. as the template 6 shown in Fig. 3. The template has an array of marking holes 32. For ease of reference these are arranged in rows and columns, but these are irregularly spaced. There may be indicia 34 for use in identifying rows and columns so that individual holes 32 can be identified by grid references. The template also has fixing holes 35" for self-tapping screws. A template location hole 36 is used to determine the positioning of the template for use.
A reading instruction hole 38 encodes (e.g. by its position or presence/absence) how marking holes 32 (or marks produced directly or indirectly, using those holes) are to be read, e.g. "reading row numbers downwardly" or "upwardly".
Such a master template may be used to produce sets of templates, the templates within a set being identical and having a subset of marking holes 32 and also having template location holes 36, and possibly, reading instruction holes 38.
There may be different master templates 30 having identical arrays of marking holes 32 but differing in the positions of their location holes 36. Thus the use of identical subsets of marking holes 32 of such templates (or of secondary templates derived from them) would give detectably different markings.

Master templates and secondary templates derived from them can be used in producing markings and in confirming the identity of markings, e.g. generally as described with reference to the previous drawings.
Thus a marking pattern can be identified by locating a master template (or secondary template with an array of marking holes 32 believed to include holes corresponding to the markings) over the marking pattern, and reading off 'grid references' corresponding to the markings. Central records can then be searched, e.g. by inputting grid reference data to a central computer that stores the pattern data with associated information.
Data about templates and markings can be stored in a central computer. This can be used with a numerically controlled machine tool in the generation of templates and/or markings.
The identification of a marking can be carried out directly from the marking, or from a reproduction thereof. For example, a rubbing of a marking can be taken. This can be checked at a remote location, e.g. after transmitted by facsimile transmission.
In seeking to identify a marking pattern using a template, if it is found that a marking hole is out of register with a template hole, this at once shows that the pattern is not genuine (or that the wrong master template has been selected) .