FRED FLINTSTONE NOTWITHSTANDING, HANNA-BARBERA Cartoons Inc. is no Stone Age studio. To guard against counterfeits of its celluloid images--which fetch $750 and up in the collectors' market--Hanna-Barbera is employing the very latest in biotechnology. First, the studio snips some hair from the head of 83-year-old co-founder Joseph Barbera. Using a technique called polymerase chain reaction, it isolates a fragment of Barbera's DNA, then makes millions of copies of it. These copies are mixed into a special ink used for Barbera's signature and a numbered seal, both of which go on the celluloid frames, known as cels. A handheld scanner can instantly read the genetic ink, verifying the signature and checking the seal against a database of registered cels. Co-founder William Hanna, 84, uses conventional ink for his co-signature.
Hanna-Barbera's development partner, Los Angeles-based Art Guard International Inc., has big plans and a patent for the DNA marker technology. Art Guard President Charles Butland says it could protect items ranging from paintings to coins to credit and I.D. cards.