What's being done to prevent look-alike
and sound-alike product names?
From the August 12, 1998 issue
Sometimes readers ask what ISMP is doing to stop look-alike
and sound-alike product names from being marketed. Answering
this question gives us an opportunity to provide our readers
with insight into the pharmaceutical trademark process, and
how ISMP is working to make a positive difference.
Most major companies hire branding specialists to develop
trademarks that meet marketing needs. We are pleased to report
that, increasingly, the concerns of health professionals are
being considered by many companies, even during the creative
name development process. While ISMP rarely takes part in
the creative development phase, we are told that the potential
for medication errors is considered. Once the company has
a "short list" of potential names for a new drug, the list
is given to a trademark attorney who searches registration
files in many countries to determine if the candidates sound
or look like existing registrations. This is a complex process.
Not all trademarks in the registration file are on the market,
and not all marketed products have a registered trademark.
In addition, neither the company trademark attorney, nor the
examiner at the US Patent and Trademark Office, has access
to the many generic names, medical terms or medical abbreviations
that can increase confusion and lead to medical errors.
Increasingly, companies are taking additional measures to
determine if there are unacceptable similarities between the
proposed trademark and products on the market. Therefore,
a growing number of companies are now turning to ISMP as an
unbiased resource for error evaluation. The guiding principle
for ISMP trademark evaluation is built upon Failure Mode and
Effects Analysis (FMEA), a technique that places proposed
trademarks in a clinical or pharmacy context and simulates
actual work conditions. Thus, practicing nurses, pharmacists
and physicians are a major source of information during ISMP's
error evaluation process. There are several other error evaluation
services available to companies. We anticipate that even more
will become available as the FDA, and other regulatory groups
around the world, encourage error potential evaluations. Toward
that end, the FDA has established a Labeling and Nomenclature
Committee to review every trademark as part of the new drug
application (NDA) process. Among the criteria for the FDA
trademark review are look- and sound-alike issues.
To help us meet the needs of the pharmaceutical industry,
ISMP created a separate division, MED-ERRS, which stands for
Medical Error Recognition and Revision Strategies. Through
MED-ERRS, we are able to provide an evaluation service that
preserves the confidentiality of proprietary information while
making extensive use of pharmacists, nurses and other health
care professionals from the US and around the world to provide
input on potential errors. We use the Internet and other channels
to communicate and gather data for the research. ISMP also
works with Bruce Lambert, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois,
who developed a unique computer modeling program to calculate
similarities in trademarks using formulas drawn from the science
of psycholinguistics (Lambert BL. Predicting look-alike and
sound-alike medication errors. Am J Health-Syst Pharm 1997;54:1161-71).
When combined with the insights of health professionals that
would be using the product, the output from the computer program,
named PREDICTÔ, helps MED-ERRS identify flaws in trademarks
early enough in the process to prevent problem names from
reaching the market. HELP WANTED: If you would like to be
involved in error evaluation of trademarks, please send us
a letter or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org). We will be glad to
add you to the list of practitioners who help with this work.