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What is a QR code? (with pictures)

Summary:  In simple language (with pictures), we explain what is a QR code, how to use a QR code and who invented the QR code.


“QR code” is short for “Quick Response” code.  The QR code is one of the most popular formats of 2D codes, the others being the Data Matrix  and the Microsoft “Tag” code.  In a 2011 broadcast, National Public Radio recently referred to QR codes (perhaps incorrectly) as “Quick Read” codes.

A QR code has three large “positon” elements in three corners and a smaller “alignment” element in the remaining corner. These design elements allow a QR code to be decoded at a very high speed and at nearly any viewing angle. A QR code is easy to read with any smart phone, feature phone or camera phone.

QR codes are becoming more popular in  North American market mostly because of the efforts of businesses to include QR codes in printed publications, on billboards and signs, on television, and every form of print advertising.  QR codes are also becoming popular because many Android, Nokia, and Blackberry handsets come with QR code readers installed and QR reader software is widely available for most smart phones, feature phones, and camera phones.

Who invented QR codes?  When were QR codes invented?

QR codes were invented by Toyota subsidiary Denso-Wave in 1994 for tracking parts in automotive manufacturing.   The term “QR code” is a registered trademark of Denso Wave Incorporated.  Denso Wave owns the patent rights on QR codes, but has chosen not to exercise them.  The QR code is clearly defined and published as an ISO standard.

In what countries were QR codes first used?

QR codes have been used frequently in Japan, the Netherlands, and South Korea since 1994.  The adoption of QR codes in the United States has been slow where competing 2D codes such as Microsoft Tag and Data Matrix exist.

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