Trademarks Protecting The Future of Pharma Innovation

Gökçen Uzer Çengelci,

In recent decades, the pharmaceutical industry has contributed significantly to the great strides that have been made against diseases including; cancer, HIV/Aids, and tropical diseases such as malaria. In 2020, when the world was engulfed by the COVID-19 pandemic, pharma companies entered into an unprecedented race to find effective treatments, resulting in the global collaborative efforts of pharmas, government agencies, and higher education institutions.

Having intellectual property that protects these important pharmaceutical innovations is critical to the global pharmaceutical and biotech sectors and to the global population. Without this protection, companies and individuals are unable to commercialize this invaluable global research and development work, and pharma companies will have depleted investment resources to develop drugs for the next serious illness. Just as importantly, in the pharma field, IP acts as a crucial safety mechanism against the proliferation of potentially dangerous or ineffective treatments.

In this article, I highlight the value of having strong trademarks within the pharma industry, run some data analysis on vaccine trademarks, and take a look at trademark data for one new and exciting biopharma innovation!

The value of having a strong trademark and brand protection strategy

The commercial value of owning marks, patents, and designs cannot be understated. A new report from the EUIPO shows that companies owning IPRs create an average of 20% more revenue per employee than those that don't. While strong trademarks also help to protect all businesses and consumers, for pharma companies in particular, a robust trademark establishment process is necessary because before releasing any new product, pharma companies will have already spent a considerable amount of money and many years on R&D and clinical trials. The trademarks registered to apply to these new products then are born with debt and so are even more valuable to the owner.  

In addition to trademarks, pharma companies developing new drugs will obtain patents to protect their investments. However, once qualifying conditions are met, a patent has a comparatively short shelf life of twenty years. It’s a common misconception that the clock on a patent only starts ticking once the drug hits the market. In reality, a patent can be in force for years before a pharmaceutical company can begin commoditizing their creation. In different regions, there are different strategies that can be employed to extend or compensate for this, but it is a complex matter. 

Generic pharma companies who do not carry out any R&D typically wait for a patent to expire (and become generic) and then start to produce that drug. So, the patent owner needs to make sure their trademark is so strong that when the patent does expire, consumers still associate the commercial product with the drug itself rather than instantly swapping to the generic version. The original trademark will be the only intellectual property asset that the innovator will have once the patent expires as a trademark assigns a license that is virtually perpetual.

Last year saw biopharma dominated by COVID-19, which resulted in a surge of vaccine research and business activity. Let’s look at recent vaccine trademark activity to find out the current volume of applications, and in which international Classes these marks have been filed.

Vaccine trademarks

According to data extracted from our preliminary trademark screening and business intelligence tool ExaMatch™, there are over 160 thousand live trademarks with the word “vaccine” in their product description at the time of writing. These marks are spread over multiple international Classes. 24% of these trademark applications were filed in Nice Class 5 (Pharmaceuticals and Medical Supplies), 4.7% in Class 35 (Advertising and Business), 4.4% in Class 44 (Medical, Cosmetic and Agricultural Services), 4.3% in Class 3 (Cosmetics and Cleaning Preparations) and 4.2% in Class 42 (Research and Development), with the rest being filed in various other Classes.

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Last year, we analyzed and examined Nice Class 5, all trademarks related to vaccines, COVID-19 related trademarks, and the top trademark filers across 180 registries in our report, “An Overview of Vaccine Trademarks and Owners”.  


Pharma and biotech trademark search solutions

It is worth knowing that to derive the above information, our platform and trademark clearance tools rely on trademark application data provided by 180 registries as well as common law data containing more than 140 million public and private companies in 191 countries. Global pharma-in-use and clinical trials data (including IMS Health, POCA [FDA], INN, and USAN data), along with major app stores, web, and social media data is also included. All global data is gathered and cleaned by our databases and AI platform regularly. 

Biopharma innovation — gene editing 

The pharma industry also saw developments in other areas that will position it for further growth, even after the virus is brought under control. Gene editing is one biopharma trend that has already attracted a lot of attention. 

In 2018, an innovation known as CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) made headlines as an emerging gene editing technology that could revolutionize medicine. The key breakthrough in its development came in 2012, when teams in the US and Europe, led by Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, demonstrated how the bacterial defense system could be turned into a ‘cut and paste’ tool for editing gene sequences. In 2020, they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their efforts. 

Current research is determining whether CRISPR technology could eliminate harmful viruses, correct genetic diseases, cure cancer, reduce or remove pain, and extend human life expectancy. The possibilities are causing much excitement — and not just in the pharma community. Some members of the public are also getting on board. A 2019 Netflix documentary series entitled “Unnatural Selection” takes us inside the lives of scientists and amateurs as they use gene-editing technologies like CRISPR to conduct experiments. 

When looking at trademark registration data, the Swiss trademark owner CRISPR Therapeutics AG currently holds over 30 live (valid and pending) marks containing the mark text CRISPR. Further analysis of this activity reveals that 29.2% of these trademark applications were filed in Nice Class 42 (Research and Development), 27% in Class 41 (Education and Entertainment), and 21.3% in Class 5 (Pharmaceuticals and Medical Supplies), with 10.1% having been filed in Class 1 (Chemicals).

The top five product descriptions are all found in Class 42, with Science and technology services (57.1%), Pharmaceutical research and development, and Laboratory services holding an equal ratio of 51.4%, and Genetic research, Scientific advisory services, and Cosmetics research found in 48.6% of all applications.

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The top registry by volume of live trademarks is the United States’ USPTO (17.1%), followed by Brazil’s INPI, Benelux BOIP, Germany’s DPMA, Spain’s OEPM, United Kingdom’s IPO, Mexico’s IMPO, and South Africa’s CIPC — all having an 8.6% share. 

Final thoughts

A November 2020 market report issued by the Business Research Company has projected that the global CRISPR technology market will grow from $1.65 billion this year to $2.57 billion by 2023, and then jump to $6.7 billion by 2030. 

Eli Lilly has pledged up to $2.7 billion toward using Precision BioSciences’ ARCUS® genome editing platform to research and develop potential in vivo therapies for genetic disorders, starting with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Bayer’s life science investment arm Leaps by Bayer recently co-led a $65 million Series A financing for Metagenomi, a developer of CRISPR-based gene editing systems for developing cell and gene therapies.

Although it will take years of further research and testing by the biopharma industry, the next few years could revolutionize the way that we understand, diagnose, and treat human disease and symptoms. Perhaps the trademark data is already pointing the way to this future.

Pharma trademark search just got smarter

NameCheck™ enables you to move your Pharma trademark candidates seamlessly from knockout to comprehensive similarity search. You can clear your top marks across multiple regions and common law data sources within seconds, and review search reports — ranked and analyzed by intelligent legal technology for you.  

Search smarter. 

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*This is an informational opinion article of Gökcen Uzer Cengelci of TrademarkNow, a Corsearch company. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent official policy or positions of TrademarkNow or its clients.