1.2 Trade and generic names (for pharmaceuticals)

  • Trade name (or brand name)

A “proprietary” name that a business uses for trading commercial products or services.  Most prescription drugs placed on the market are given brand names to distinguish them as being produced and marketed exclusively by a particular manufacturer.  In the United States, these names are usually registered as trademarks with the Patent Office.  Registration gives the registrant certain legal rights with respect to the use of the name.

  • Generic name

A “non-proprietary” name that is a shorthand version of the drug’s ingredient(s), used for generic drugs.  Read this page5 in the online Merck Manual about drug naming and the difference between generic and trade names.

  • International Nonproprietary Name (INN)

An official generic and non-proprietary name given to a pharmaceutical drug.  INNs make communication more precise by providing a unique standard name for each active ingredient, to avoid prescribing errors.  The INNs are available on this World Health Organization (WHO) web page6.  More detailed information on the INNs is available on this Wikipedia page7 as well as on the WHO guidance on INN.

Some countries have their own set of unique nonproprietary names assigned to pharmaceuticals marketed in their territories.  Examples are United States Adopted Names (USANs), British Approved Names (BANs), Japanese Accepted Names (JANs), Australian Approved Names (AANs), and French Approved non-proprietary names (Dénominations Communes Françaises, DCF).  These names are not necessarily the same as INNs.  For example, the USAN of Tylenol is “acetaminophen”, while its INN is “paracetamol”.


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