The Dynamics Of Pharmaceutical Trademarks

Judith Soto,

The scale of counterfeit medicines shocks even the most experienced border and law enforcement professionals.  

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2009, 20 million pills, bottles and sachets of counterfeit and illegal medicines were seized in a five-month operation coordinated by the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) across China and seven of its south-east Asian neighbors; 33 people were arrested and 100 retail outlets closed. Ten years later, such operations are dwarfed by the advent of fake medicines being sold online. In September 2019, the UK Sunday Times revealed that rogue online pharmacies are putting thousands of people’s lives at risk in Britain by issuing painkillers, sleeping pills, and anti-anxiety tablets without a prescription.  Furthermore, many of these drugs are fake.

Not only do counterfeit drugs impact pharmaceutical companies’ profits and branding, they are also linked to microbial resistance, side-effects, and even death.

According to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, tests have identified fake and ineffective copies of a vast range of drugs including antimalarials, antibiotics and cardiovascular and cancer medicines. Many fakes originate in China and India and have been found to contain everything from printer ink and paint to arsenic. And lifestyle drugs, such as Viagra, are also highly susceptible to fraud.

Strong trademarks help to prevent pharmaceutical drug crime. However, they also provide many more benefits.

Trademarks protect business and consumers

According to an International Trademark Association (INTA) Educational Brief, The Importance of Pharmaceutical Trademarks in Protecting Public Health, robust marks ensure:

  • Because the selection process is designed to create a unique and distinctive mark, health professionals are given a greater chance of administering the correct medication. Generic names are often difficult to spell, let alone remember, and reliance on these for identification purposes raises the risk of clinical error.
  • That consumers choose the correct medication. A trademarked brand name provides confidence to people that they are selecting a medication which they know works for them.
  • If a patient has an allergic reaction to a particular drug, it is far easier to identify it via its trademarked name than its generic name.  
  • The use of trademarks enhances manufacturers’ ability to monitor the safety of existing drugs. If adverse effects are reported, it is hugely time-consuming and costly for a pharmaceutical company to isolate whether their particular product is involved if the only identifier is a generic name.
  • Trademarks provide a mechanism for manufacturers to protect their products from counterfeits. Border control and identifying counterfeit medications is rendered all but impossible if a drug is only known by its generic name. Without clear branding, international alarm is often first raised only when a group of people become ill or die.

The value of pharmaceutical trademarks

Although drug patents are highly valuable, they are short-lived. A patent lasts 20 years; however, as most manufacturers file patents before the new drug hits the market to protect against copycats, by the time testing is completed and the drug is made available, it only enjoys 10 years or so of patent protection (although this can be extended).  

A trademark, provided it is renewed, can last indefinitely. Although pharmaceutical trademark applications must pass significant regulatory hurdles, once in place, they are a significant asset, both in terms of the manufacturer’s business valuation and in attracting future investment.

In summary

A pharmaceutical trademark normally needs worldwide coverage. Therefore, an extensive global trademark search is imperative. This is not only to check the originality of the proposed mark but to ensure it does not have negative connotations in certain countries and/or cultures.

Pharmaceutical trademarks protect the entire health system. They minimize the risk of clinical errors, help fight the battle against counterfeit drugs, and encourage confidence in investors, leading to the acquisition of increased capital for research and development.

In the pharmaceutical sector, robust trademarks truly are a matter of life and death.  

Learn more in our pharma webinar 

Join TrademarkNow Specialist Zac Casstevens, in conversation with Tiffany Walter, Head of Pharma Trademarks at F. Hoffmann-La Roche on Thursday September 26th 2019 at 9.30AM CT / 3.30PM CET in our webinar on trademark management in the pharma industry

The webinar will share statistics and insights into trademark activity in the pharma industry, as well as an overview of the main challenges faced by pharma trademark professionals today. Tiffany Walter will also take Q&A from the audience on the day.

Can't make it at this time? Why not register anyway - we'll send you a recording after the webinar.

New call-to-action


Related articles

Subscribe for updates