What does “generic” mean?

“Generic from a trademark point of view” and “generic from a patent point of view” ...

September 2006

Philosophy: striking a balance
Obligations and exceptions
> What does “generic” mean?
> Developing countries

This fact sheet has been prepared by the Information and Media Relations Division of the WTO Secretariat to help public understanding. It is not an official interpretation of the WTO agreements or members’ positions
Dictionaries tend to define a “generic” as a product — particularly a drug — that does not have a trademark. For example, “paracetamol” is a chemical ingredient that is found in many brandname painkillers and is often sold as a (generic) medicine in its own right, without a brandname. This is “generic from a trademark point of view”.

Sometimes “generic” is also used to mean copies of patented drugs or drugs whose patents have expired — “generic from a patent point of view”. This is not necessarily different since patented drugs are almost always sold under a brandname or trademark. When copies of patent drugs are made by other manufactures, they are either sold under the name of the chemical ingredient (making them clearly generic), or under another brandname (which means they are still generics from the point of view of patents).

Whether a drug is generic is one question. Whether it infringes intellectual property rights and is pirated or counterfeit is a separate question. Generic copies are legal from the patent point of view when they are made after the patent has expired or under voluntary or compulsory licence — but pirated and counterfeit products are by definition illegal.

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