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QR Code Overview

Structure of a QR code, highlighting functional elements

Although initially used to track parts in vehicle manufacturing, QR codes are now (as of 2011[update]) used over a much wider range of applications, including commercial tracking, entertainment and transport ticketing, product marketing and in-store product labeling. Many of these applications target mobile-phone users (via mobile tagging). Users may receive text, add a vCard contact to their device, open a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI), or compose an e-mail or text message after scanning QR codes. They can generate and print their own QR codes for others to scan and use by visiting one of several pay or free QR code-generating sites or apps. Google has a popular API to generate QR codes,[5] and apps for scanning QR codes can be found on nearly all smartphone devices.[6]

QR codes storing addresses and Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) may appear in magazines, on signs, on buses, on business cards, or on almost any object about which users might need information. Users with a camera phone equipped with the correct reader application can scan the image of the QR code to display text, contact information, connect to a wireless network, or open a web page in the telephone’s browser. This act of linking from physical world objects is termed hardlinking or object hyperlinking.

QR codes can be used in Google’s mobile Android operating system via both their own Google Goggles application or 3rd party barcode scanners like ZXing or Kaywa. The browser supports URI redirection, which allows QR codes to send metadata to existing applications on the device. Nokia’s Symbian operating system features a barcode scanner which can read QR codes,[7] while mbarcode[8] is a QR code reader for the Maemo operating system. In the Apple iOS, a QR code reader is not natively included, but more than fifty paid and free apps are available with both scanning capabilities and hard-linking to URI. With BlackBerry devices, the App World application can natively scan QR codes and load any recognized Web URLs on the device’s Web browser. Following an upcoming update (as of 2011), Windows Phone 7 will be able to scan QR codes through the Bing search app.

In the USA, QR code usage is expanding. During the month of June 2011, according to one study, 14 million mobile users scanned a QR code or a barcode. Some 58% of those users scanned a QR or bar code from their home, while 39% scanned from retail stores; 53% of the 14 million users were men between the ages of 18 and 34.[9]


There are several standards in documents covering the physical encoding of QR codes:[10]

At the application layer, there is some variation between implementations. NTT DoCoMo has established de facto standards for the encoding of URLs, contact information, and several other data types.[12] The open-source “ZXing” project maintains a list of QR code data types.[13]


The use of QR codes is free of any license. The QR code is clearly defined and published as an ISO standard. Denso Wave owns the patent rights on QR codes, but has chosen not to exercise them.[10]

In the USA, the granted QR code patent is US5726435. In Japan it is JP2938338. In Germany it is DE69518098. (The European Patent Office granted patent EP0672994 to Denso Wave, but Denso only “nationalized” the patent grant in Germany.)

The term QR code itself is a registered trademark of Denso Wave Incorporated.[14]