Partnership Announced in Bid to Capitalize on Emerging RFID Market

Zebra Technologies and ThingMagic LLC on Wednesday announced a partnership that pairs a player in retail bar-code labels with a startup developing radio-tagged product code technology to replace bar codes.

Vernon Hills, Ill.-based Zebra said it is licensing technology ThingMagic has developed to read radio frequency identification tags. The RFID tags are used to track products from the factory all the way to the checkout stand.

ThingMagic, a 4-year-old company based in Cambridge, is licensing its Mercury4e reader, which is designed to read a tag regardless of what communications setting it uses _ a feature that recognizes the multiple settings the industry now uses as it moves toward standardization.

ThingMagic's reader will be used with a new line of RFID label printers and encoders that Zebra will introduce, the companies said.

Terms of the Zebra/ThingMagic partnership were not disclosed. Kevin Ashton, ThingMagic's vice president for marketing, said the agreement was a multimillion-dollar deal that did not exceed $10 million.

Zebra has long had a presence in bar code technology used to manage products and supplies, and has been moving into the RFID field.

Unlike traditional bar codes, RFID tags don't need to pass directly under a laser reader.

Companies like Wal-Mart, Gillette and Procter & Gamble are moving toward embedding the chips in shipping crates to help big companies save billions by tracking their products. Last year, Wal-Mart Stores told its top 100 suppliers to deliver RFID-tagged products by Jan. 1, 2005.

The Yankee Group, a Boston-based technology research firm, has projected the RFID market will reach $4.2 billion in 2008.