What’s in a name? Trademarking COVID-19 solutions

The brand name chosen for a vaccine or drug is more than a commercial matter. That’s why trademark analysts also assess for patient safety. Get the full story.

Every vaccine and drug goes to market under a distinct brand name, and the COVID-19 vaccines and treatments are no different.

Danielle Waterman,
Senior Trademark Quality Specialist,
Boston, United States

“The pharmaceutical naming process is extremely complex,” says Danielle Waterman, noting that a pharma company may consider a dozen or more names in search of one that’s distinctive as well as compelling. It can be a tricky business, and an important one not just for commercial reasons, but also for patient safety.

Danielle’s group helps to vet potential names for clients across a range of industries, but pharmaceuticals require some special considerations. Ultimately, their goal is to make sure they are uncovering any similar names that might lead to prescription errors, because otherwise, somebody could get the wrong medicine.

“It is getting a little better as you have fewer handwritten prescriptions, but in our searches we have to consider how it’s going to look if you write them out by hand – for example, an ‘L’ and a ‘T’ can look an awful lot alike, as can a ‘B’ and a ‘D.’ Most analysts I work with have been doing it for 20 years, so they really know what to look for.”

Similar-sounding brand names, too, can lead to confusion – the antidepressant Brintellix and the clotting medication Brilinta, for example, or the anticoagulant Heparin and the plasma expander Hespan. Although used for very different indications, their similar names can lead to human error, resulting in potentially dangerous prescribing or dispensing mistakes.


Coming together for a shared cause

When COVID-19 began to break out in early 2020, Waterman’s team saw a big shift in the kinds of asks coming their way, as focus shifted to cleaning and antibacterial products, charitable fundraising efforts and remote technologies.


“It seemed like every industry and every client was coming together and saying, ‘Okay, what can we do to address COVID?’”

Danielle Waterman, Senior Trademark Quality Specialist, Boston, United States


Waterman and her colleagues were already working remotely, and as a New Englander accustomed to long winters, she felt well-acclimatized for the lockdowns, but saw the toll it took on her coworkers with kids, particularly little ones. Her own son graduated high school in their back yard, donning cap and gown and setting up folding chairs for a virtual ceremony conducted over Zoom.

It was a hopeful indication when, in the summer of 2020, still just months into the pandemic, her team started getting searches for possible COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

“We started to get the names in and that was really exciting – like, oh, they’re really making progress,” said Waterman. Given that her team typically fields search requests for prescription drugs and vaccines a year-and-a-half to two years before they reach patients, the speed with which these medicines moved through the Emergency Use Authorization process was surprising.

The team of experienced trademark analysts quickly jumped in to support, helping customers to bring distinctive brands to market.

“I’ve been in trademarks for 27 years, and I’ve never seen things come to market so quickly,” said Waterman. “It’s really a medical miracle.”

United by a common cause, a global team of Clarivate experts partnered with pharmaceutical companies to fight COVID-19. The reward for their ingenuity: Life-saving vaccines brought to market in record time. Get the full story.

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