Capitalizing on Drug Names

Drug manufacturing is a capitalist business. We know this because, pretty much without exception, drug manufacturers handle their brand names in ALL CAPITALS: “The gold standard in maintenance treatment for reticulated spline is KYDATID® (roftlomulast).” But does that mean you have to handle it that way too?

The Capital Investment

Drug manufacturers have an obvious interest in making sure their product is promoted and recognized, and ALL CAPS jumps off the page—it’s the text equivalent of shouting. But there’s no requirement for you to handle their brand names that way; in fact, even their marketing departments often don’t. A brand name is a proper noun, so you do have to capitalize the first letter, as you would with any other brand name (in medical speak: lower-case treatment is contraindicated in brand names). But you can call it “Kydatid.” No need to have KYDATID screaming off the page everywhere. (In case you're wondering why you haven't heard of that particular cure, the drug names in this article have been invented to protect the innocent...and to save legal fees.)

Keeping in the Right Register

Another thing that brands do is put a trademark (™) or registered trademark (®) sign after their brand name, either the first time it’s used or every time it’s used. They do this because it presents their legal claim on the name and their intention to defend that claim. There are some things you need to know about these symbols:

  • If you are not the trademark owner, you are not required to use them. You may do so as a courtesy (or a contractual requirement), or to help make it clear to your readers that something is a brand name; but you don’t have to. You can just put “He was taking a medication called Kydatid to treat his reticulated spline.”
  • Both ™ and ® are single characters. If you’re working in Microsoft Word, it will automatically change (tm) to ™ and (r) to ® for you, just like it changes your straight quotes to curly ones. If you’re not working in Word, you can make the characters yourself: on a Mac, the ™ is Option 2 (hold down Option and type 2) and the ® is Option r; on a PC with a numeric keypad, the ™ is ALT 0153 (hold down the ALT and type 0153 on the numeric keypad) and the ® is ALT 0174. Do not just type TM and add superscript formatting to it; it doesn’t look the same, and if you lose the formatting (as can easily happen), you will have a big ugly TM that may even look like part of the brand name (especially if you’re all-capping it for some reason: KYDATIDTM).
  • Both ™ and ® are superscripted. Some type faces make ® a superscripted character; others make it full height. Make sure you know which will be the case for your particular document. You don’t want a full-height ® if you can avoid it, and on the other hand if you superscript a ® that’s already a superscripted character it will be small, awkward, and hard to see.
  • If the brand name is more than one word, pay close attention to where the symbol goes if you’re adding it. Sometimes the second word is part of the trademark (Kydatid Ecupak®) and sometimes it’s not (Kydatid® Daily).

The Common Factor

In all of this, we’ve just been talking about the brand name. There’s also the common name (a.k.a. the generic name). When the manufacturer writes about “KYDATID® (roftlomulast),” they’re talking about a brand-name drug called Kydatid that has the active ingredient roftlomulast, plus whatever inactive ingredients the pill also contains to help that active ingredient get into your system. It’s sort of like if vodka brands were to advertise “Drink CRYSTAL GOOSE® (ethanol)—it’s super classy!”

We talk about drug common names in greater detail in “How to Spell Brand and Generic Drug Names Correctly,” but there’s one thing you need to know here: they’re not capitalized. Brand names are owned by companies and no one but the company that owns the name can use them, and they’re capitalized. Common (generic) names, on the other hand, are not. A given drug will have patent protection for some number of years (varying from country to country, and also starting before the drug actually makes it to market), but after the patent expires, any other pharmaceutical company can also make it and market it, just like liquor companies can all make and market ethanol (subject to government requirements, etc.). And so the common name is just the name of a chemical, and doesn’t get capitalized.

So it’s Kydatid with a capital K but roftlomulast with a lower-case r.

Keeping It Straight

If you’re an editor, you know all this goes into your style sheet: whether to include the ™ or ® (always make sure you use the right one if you’re using them!), whether to handle brand names in all caps (seriously, try to avoid doing this), and the correct spelling and capitalization of all brand and common names in your documents. You may also add them into your Microsoft Word spelling dictionary. But if you’re working with other editors and writers, each one of them will have to add all the names—and add them correctly.

All of which takes time, of course, and pulls your attention away from more substantial issues. You may have it in your style sheet, but you still have to look, and check, and worry that you might have missed a detail of spelling, when you really want to be giving your focus to whether the information will help your readers be as well-informed and healthy as possible. How much does it help an ordinary person to know that it’s roftlomulast and not Roftlomulast if they’re in the hospital because they didn’t realize that “plantar pruritus” means “itchy soles” and it’s a sign of a severe allergic reaction—and you were too distracted by the drug name to fix the jargon?

As a result, automated checking, like the kind you’ll find in PerfectIt, saves time, protects your reputation, and may even safeguard the health of your readers. You can use PerfectIt’s capitalization check to make sure you have capital letters where they belong. When you add drug names to a style sheet in PerfectIt, you can easily share it with everyone in your department, so your entire team gets it right every time. That way, you don’t have to be distracted by these little mechanical details, and can focus on the heart (or other body parts) of the matter.

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