September 12, 2023

How To Create a Trademark for Pharma Products

Naming in pharma is a minefield.

The name should not be too promising, not too difficult to pronounce and it could still be unusable in a new market, according to local regulations.

Here we concentrate on so-called proprietary names, or trademarks, where the aim is to establish a name which is to be used exclusively for the company applying for it. Focus will also be on prescription drugs.

In fact, trying to create names for pharma there is a keyword, more important than anything else: Unpredictability. You must always be prepared for surprising mental explosions coming from various sources. We created the name Brilinta for AstraZeneca. It was approved in the US by FDA without any particular difficulties but EMA took the decision that it was too promising because of the similarity to “brilliant”. Another name, Brilique, had to be created for Europe.

The former information director of Astra Zeneca had some favourite examples based on Swedish; Osobra (oh, very good) or Fabulosid. However, they would never be accepted by Swedish authorities.

This is the norm in most countries but now and then you can see names that are transparently quite promising. Abilify is registered worldwide and in our eyes, it is just promising and has no other qualities.

Another totally unpredictable area is handwriting tests. We created a relatively transparent name for Nycomed. It was for an osteoporosis product with effervescent distribution. The name, Steovess, was very much appreciated and legal checks looked also very promising. EMA accepted it but in the US, it was turned down because of similarity to another drug: Atelvia. It might also be that Atelvia is also used for osteoporosis in many countries, but of course this was impossible to foresee as the names are quite different but our theory is that FDA pays much attention to the kind of letters used. They look at consonants with ”staples”. Let’s compare Steovess and Atelvia. T is the only letter with a staple and there is another famous example: Avandia and Coumadin were regarded to be too similar and also here we only find the d with a staple.

And regarding the INN-system: a general recommendation is to avoid stems in stem position. Some of them are distinct and defined as suffixes or prefixes but there are also many stems containing only one or two letters, which totally lack distinctiveness. Like suffix –al, -ine or infix –io-. Ni- is an example of this, which is difining Nicotine.

The real advice is ”avoid stems “at least” in stem positions” but we doubt that EMA or FDA would reject names with the non-distinctive stems

There are many more rules. The name should not convey any misleading pharmaceutical or in general “bad” connotations, not be misleading or offensive, be pronounceable within all markets where it is used and should not convey any promotional message. And finally, it shall not be too similar to other names used in pharma.

Well. What is the conclusion: is it impossible to find new trademarks? No, it is not. The unpredictability can lead to surprisingly simplified names coming through. We created the name Instanyl for Nycomed; ”instant fentanyl”.

Finally, we will give you some general advice when it comes to creating names, clearing them and how to think if you find other similar trademarks or INNs.

How to create a trademark for pharma products

  1. Create many names in different directions. Try to avoid banal or common morphemes like –al, -on, -yl etc. as they will hardly contribute to originality. Try to think different in almost every aspect. Try to create names with various “staples", like b, d, g, j, y, p, t, k, and y.
  2. Make your plans early. You must have time and space for several negative decisions coming up. Note: Unpredictability!
  3. You can make a lot of searches for free on the net. But even if you do not find identicals it does not say much. Our advice is to seek an expert to guide you through.
  4. Avoid INN-stems totally with exception that you can try the one designed for your active ingredient. Also, here we would advise you to consult an expert. Though you can find free sources on the internet like “USAN-stem book” it is not an easy thing trying to identify the stems as you do not know which letter they start with. There are companies to find that can help you with this, e.g. Skriptor Zigila.
  5. If you find a name existing as a pharma name anywhere in the world, delete it immediately. There are several sources to do these searches. One of the most reliable is perhaps Pharma in Use via CompuMark’s Saegis, but you can in fact find quite useful information free on for example
  6. Trying to evaluate names legally is very complex, not least because of the masses of trademarks. But there are some useful rules which are good to know: When you find anything similar in use: delete. If you find a trademark registered last five years it is a bad sign but there is still some hope under the conditions that you get your trademark rights. FDA and EMA do not consider when you got your trademarks rights so we think the rule is “first come, first served”. If a trademark is registered for more than five years and not in use it is always possible to try to get it cancelled.

Contact us if you have any questions!

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