The materiality of the brand: Form, function, and the pharmaceutical trademark

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3 Scopus citations


This article narrates a late twentieth century controversy in American medicine over the clinical, public health, and financial value of 'look-alike drugs' a set of generic pharmaceuticals that imitated their brand-name counterparts down to exact parameters of size, shape, and color. At stake in these conflicts was the emerging landscape of market exclusivity for formerly innovative pharmaceuticals once their patent rights expired. After the patent, which qualities of a brand-name drug could still be considered to be private property, and which became part of the public commons? This dispute invoked thorny epistemological questions about pharmaceuticals as therapeutic technologies. Was the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) the only public, knowable part of a drug, while other parts - binders, fillers, dyes, scores, and bevels - could be kept as trade secrets? Did these other physical parts of a pill bear some clinical function as well? Could the color of a capsule affect its therapeutic effects?.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)210-226
Number of pages17
JournalHistory and Technology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2013


  • drug industry
  • history of medicine
  • intellectual property
  • marketing
  • pharmaceuticals
  • trademarks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History and Philosophy of Science


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