Barcode Revolution

The bar code revolution began in 1970 when an Ad Hoc Committee was formed. It consisted of CEO’s, Vice Chairmen, and other high ranking officers of grocery manufacturers and grocery distributors, both large and small. This committee of ten had various motivations, not the least of which was to reduce costs and pass some of these savings on to the public. When the U.P.C. was accepted by the industries in 1973, my company’s attorney and I, the inventor of the U.P.C. Barcode & Symbol, agreed not to patent or copyright either the code or the symbol. One reason, for sure, was to avoid setting up any road blocks that would slow the implementation but another was to insure that all food retailers and manufacturers no matter what their size would be able to take advantage of this technology.

In keeping with this objective the initial charge for a “prefix” allowing 100,000 item umbers was only $250 and there were no annual fees. This was increased to $300 in 1978. Also in 1978 UPCC (the predecessor to UCC) ended its contract with DCI/DNB because they believed the $286,000 a year to maintain the database was too high. The work was given to Dick Mindlin with a projected cost of $125,000 a year. The membership was less than 5000 and it was predicted to max out at 6000. UPCC was reluctant to extend membership to companies not involved with groceries.

Since then, UCC recognized the need to open the registration to all businesses. The membership grew to over 100,000 in the next 15 years. UCC (now GS1) has accomplished many things: set standards, worked toward standards for RFI, published helpful information, persuaded retailers in the US to modify their programs to accept EAN symbols, and much more. Many of these have contributed to world trade, and reduced costs to consumers, manufactures, and retailers. All this great and useful work does not come without a price. By the year 2005, GS1’s (a not for profit organization) operating expenses grew 3,400% to just under $42,000,000. Unfortunately, other than consumers, most of the advantages went to the largest vendors and retailer.

The small business owners and fledgling entrepreneurs were left behind. The cost to buy a minimum quantity of numbers from GS1 increased to over $700 and a required annual fee of $150. This may not seem like a lot of money to some, but to an entrepreneur with little financial resources, that amount often was a make or break situation. The potential businessman might be a band with his first CD or video, a cook with a new BBQ sauce, or a person producing greeting cards. Even Mom and Pop retail outlets use scanners and automated programs to run their business efficiently.

Therefore a U.P.C. number and symbol was necessary to market a new product anywhere. My web site,, has been for more than a decade dedicated to helping people starting or operating small businesses understand the U.P.C. Six or more years ago it came to my attention that some purchasers of a U.P.C. number from UCC could legally sell item numbers or subsets of their purchased prefix. I listed resellers and explained how one could obtain a legal U.P.C. number at a more reasonable price.

Most retail outlets accept resold numbers without question. Of course another problem exists. What if a person just made up a number or stole a number? Kroger’s and Wal-Mart’s solution is to not accept a product unless the U.P.C. number was issued by GS1 or UCC. This is for good reason. If a product with a rogue U.P.C. number got into their system, it could cause untold havoc. There was no authoritative source they could go to verify the legitimacy of a U.P.C. item number. This points out the need for a reliable directory.

I am committed to preventing my invention from doing harm. Therefore, I have teamed up with a few friends to construct and maintain this site. Our sincere hope is that it will grow, and thus eliminate the pirating of U.P.C. numbers, improve the integrity of the overall data base by reducing the number of illegitimate numbers, and ultimately persuade large retailers like Kroger and Wal-Mart to accept resold numbers. In the future it will provide a method to download product descriptions directly to a retailer’s system since the vender of the product will be able to input his information to our directory. Wholesalers provide this capability now but many of these low volume products are not distributed through wholesalers. GS1 will also benefit from our efforts because the U.P.C. number resource is finite and numbers are running out.

We want to make this endeavor a success but we can’t do it without your help. Please make any comments and/or suggestion you think are appropriate.

Text by: George J. Laurer
Submitted by: gjlaurer on Mon, 2009-06-29

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