Section 13 of the Trade Marks Act, 1999
prohibits the registration of names of chemical elements or INNs which have been declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) and notified by the Registrar of Trade Marks.
INNs are particularly relevant in the field of pharmaceutical trademarks. In most instances INNs refer to the generic name of a pharmaceutical drug. However INNs can also refer to the common ‘functional group’ or ‘active ingredient’ of a particular class of pharmaceutical drugs. The website of the WHO
describes the relevance of INNs as follows:
“The INN system as it exists today was initiated in 1950 by a World Health Assembly resolution WHA3.11 and began operating in 1953, when the first list of International Nonproprietary Names for pharmaceutical substances was published. The cumulative list of INN now stands at some 7000 names designated since that time, and this number is growing every year by some 120-150 new INN.
Since its inception, the aim of the INN system has been to provide health professionals with a unique and universally available designated name to identify each pharmaceutical substance. The existence of an international nomenclature for pharmaceutical substances, in the form of INN, is important for the clear identification, safe prescription and dispensing of medicines to patients, and for communication and exchange of information among health professionals and scientists worldwide.
As unique names, INN have to be distinctive in sound and spelling, and should not be liable to confusion with other names in common use. To make INN universally available they are formally placed by WHO in the public domain, hence their designation as “nonproprietary”. They can be used without any restriction whatsoever to identify pharmaceutical substances.
Another important feature of the INN system is that the names of pharmacologically-related substances demonstrate their relationship by using a common “stem”. By the use of common stems the medical practitioner, the pharmacist, or anyone dealing with pharmaceutical products can recognize that the substance belongs to a group of substances having similar pharmacological activity.”
Notifying a list of INNs is particularly relevant in India given the sheer volume of litigation in the segment of pharmaceutical trademarks. According to the last annual report of the IPO, pharmaceutical trademarks account for 15% of all trademark registrations, making this class of trademarks the single largest category of trademarks.
Hopefully, the notification of a list of INNs should help in improving the quality of pharmaceutical trademarks and hopefully lead to a reduction in the volume of trademark litigation clogging the judicial system. For those of you interested in reading more on this please do read this study by K.M. Gopakumar on the use of INNs in India.