The universal product code, or UPC--a common version of the bar code--turns 35 on the 26th of this month, the same month that Apple touts a barcode-reading capability in its iPhone and the New York Times reports on data bars, a follow-on technology capable of storing more data in a smaller space and more suited to the labeling of individual items.
It's also just one month after the global supply chain organization GS1 acknowledged European Commission recommendations concerning privacy and data protection, clearing the way for European manufacturers and retailers to begin or expand deployment of radio-frequency identification (RFID), a technology seen by many as the successor to the bar code.
But the bar code hangs in there, with 2-D (data matrix) codes assuming some of the shortcomings addressed by newer technologies.
The FDA established its bar code rule for blood and biologics in 2004 and issued industry guidance in 2006, saying that the use of bar codes "is intended to reduce the number of medication errors that occur in hospitals and health care settings." Of course, bar codes began to be used on the packaging of drug products long before then, especially in retail settings.
It's now legendary in automatic-identification technology circles: In 1974, a UPC-marked pack of Wrigley's gum became the first retail product read at a checkout scanner at a Marsh supermarket in Troy, Ohio. The UPC went on to provide great financial gains and productivity improvements for manufacturers, retailers and consumers. A fitting tribute to them has been made by loyalty marketer Colloquy.